Planning reforms risk inadvertent weakening of environmental and heritage protection, local democracy and community engagement

Planning reforms risk inadvertent weakening of environmental and heritage protection, local democracy and community engagement

A bill aimed at reforming England’s planning system has been announced in the Queen’s Speech today (11 May). The Queen said the Government wants to bring forward the bill to make sure more homes can be built and more people can own their own home.  

The bill, which is expected to be brought before Parliament in the autumn, will bring together the Planning for the Future White Paper, which with other recent Government consultations on changes to the planning system and the relaxation of planning controls, potentially offers less protection to the City of Bath World Heritage Site.

The forthcoming bill would give automatic approval for new homes, shops and hospitals, and the Government will call on local Councils to zone land, for development (permitted in principle) or protection. Bath Preservation Trust (BPT) believes zoning of land is too simplistic for complex and varied historic city such as Bath, therefore it is even more important that local communities and civic societies such as BPT have a say in the process of deciding such zones. Decades of experience leads BPT to conclude that a coalition of interest in planning processes is most likely to result in a successful outcome: this principle can and should be applied in turn to reform of the planning system.

The proposed widening of ‘permitted development rights’ prevents a planned approach to our town and city centre and risks leading to the loss of historic character through inappropriate development and unsympathetic alterations. Automatic permission for new homes in existing commercial buildings risks harm to the mix of uses and vitality of our high streets and would likely lead to the creation of poor-quality homes and living environments.

Like others, we are disappointed by the Government emphasis on housing numbers, and glaring omissions on true housing affordability. Yes, we need more homes, but the urgent priority at this time must be to use the current system to incentivise the building of already-permitted houses, to mitigate climate change and to enhance biodiversity, and ensure everyone has a decent home that they can afford.

BPT does not believe that planning is a barrier to building homes, the CPRE has evidenced that there are more permissions than developers can build. What’s needed is a different set of reforms that maintains a heathy balance between speedy development, better places, and natural and historic environment protection. BPT is very concerned that the proposed creation of an entirely new system has failed to include World Heritage Sites in primary legislation.

Planning reform will take time and investment in Local Authorities, and without the latter it will fail. In the current economic climate, resources would be better spent on refocusing training and time on proper place-shaping through the existing participatory planning system.

Read our full response to the Planning for the Future White Paper and government planning reform consultations here:

Planning for the Future White Paper

Changes to the Current Planning System

Supporting housing delivery and public infrastructure
(Extending Permitted Development Rights)

NPPF & National Model Design Codes