Staffordshire councils concerned about national planning reform

Staffordshire councils have raised concerns that a planned overhaul of the national planning process will create a “developers’ charter” and reduce local democracy.

Stafford Borough Council, Civic Centre, Riverside
Stafford Borough Council, Civic Centre, Riverside

The Government has put forward proposals to “modernise the planning system to get Britain building” in a White Paper.

The aim is to speed up the planning process and make it easier for the public to access the system.

Automatic approval for outline plans in “growth” and “renewal” areas and stronger enforcement powers are on the cards as part of the major reform. Local authorities would also be required to process planning applications within fixed time periods and there would be a 30-month timetable for preparing Local Plans, which provide a blueprint for future development of local areas.

A consultation on the Planning for the Future White Paper closed on October 29 and councils across Staffordshire involved in the planning process have had their say.

Members of Stafford Borough Council are worried that speed of decisions will be prioritised over scrutiny. And the number of new homes required proved a talking point at Cannock Chase Council’s October cabinet meeting.

Councillor Tony Johnson, cabinet member for economic development and planning, said: “The problem is we’re in an area that had significant brownfield sites we were able to build on. Those are becoming even more scarce and when we have been building 410 houses per year that’s a significant strain on our infrastructure, both social and physical.

“Our present allocation asks us to build 246-270 houses per year – under the proposals put forward by the Government we could be required to build around 470 houses per year. Cannock Chase is being penalised for previously more than meeting its share – green land could be under threat.”

Stone Town Council, which is not a local planning authority but does act as a consultee on applications, has also raised concerns that the changes will mean councils and communities will have less say in the decision making process for developments in their area.

Councillor Ian Fordham said: “The White Paper proposes a radical simplification and shortening of the Local Plan process – two improvements in principal we would support.

“But it does raise many questions about the danger of a top down, central Government-led approach that may marginalise other inputs at the expense of local democracy and ultimately trust in the planning process.”

Councillor Jill Hood said: “I think this Government paper has far-reaching detrimental consequences. To me it is extremely worrying to think that if a development principle fits the design code permission is granted automatically.

“There’s almost no mention of the Neighbourhood Plan – that’s a complete waste of five years of our time and public money. The Government says it wants to consider whether the content should be more focused – well how much more focused can a Neighbourhood Plan be than ours was, with consultation, continually speaking to the public and the residents putting forward their wishes?

“To me local knowledge, opinions and hope for our area are going to be sacrificed for speeding up the planning process. The democratic process will disappear.

Local people and us, their elected members, will not be able to object to a proposal, but will be expected to shape a local plan prior. I like the democratic process, I like the planning committees – I think it gives everyone a fair chance.”

Councillor Rob Kenney said: “I think even Stafford Borough will have less say in any planning decisions from now on, more like ourselves.

“The worry that I have is the fact that this is going to be fast-tracked through as fast as possible because the dates they’re aiming at to get completion of the number of houses they wish for is 2025. This is just horrendous fast-tracking – a developers’ charter basically.”

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