Planning and local democracy: of zoning laws and revolt

“Already opposition is rapidly mounting – and not just from the usual suspects.”

At present, elected councils draw up ‘local plans’ and then decide whether or not to give planning permission. At each stage the public has a say. Now the Government wants to replace this with a US-style ‘zoning system’, where councils decide what areas can be developed, but have no say over what is built.

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There are issues around how the housing minister wants to bring in new ‘zoning’ laws – and how this will override local decision-making.

And it’s happening in Canada, as voiced from a former mayor this week:

Opinion | Minister’s Zoning Orders A Threat To Good Planning, Local Democracy | DurhamRegion.com

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Similar plans and misgivings are happening in the UK.

Jonathan Meades, writing in the Sunday Times, does not think very much of the UK’s housing minister and his plans to bring in new ‘zoning laws’. As usual, he does not mince his words:

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Why build, build, build spells planning Armageddon

Locals will soon be denied a say on building projects they hate. Prepare for rabbit-hutch homes, manmade calamities and an uglification of Britain

The peculiarities of places are to be obliterated by startlingly crude standardised criteria devised by infantile vandals in their think tank sandpit. A levelling is to be applied with disregard for specifics. This is not merely political swinishness. It is an aesthetic crime. The absolute disregard for ‘genius loci’ is a triumph of philistine stupidity.

The little people who will subsist in the valued donors’ creations don’t count. Indeed, they would do well to get littler still, to fit into their undesigned crates and hutches.

Why build, build, build spells planning Armageddon | News Review | The Sunday Times

[With the full piece here: Why build, build, build spells planning Armageddon | East Devon Watch]

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And across the country, the local media and local politicians are expressing alarm:

Government reforms to planning laws could leave developers free to build in south Essex without including ‘affordable’ homes – Yellow Advertiser

‘Contentious’ planning reforms blasted for lack of public input | Dereham Times

Norfolk councillors express fears over planning reform proposals

LEEDS: Government’s planning reforms could lead to ‘worsening housing standards’, claims senior Leeds councillor | Ilkley Gazette

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Is this a question of localism turned nimbyism?

The Oxfordshire villages that fear Boris Johnson’s new planning laws | Daily Mail Online

Fears millions of new homes will be rushed through in Government’s major planning shake-up | Daily Mail Online

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Here is Geoffrey Lean writing in the Mail – and he is also unforgiving:

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Free-for-all plans that will build a revolt in the shires

Already opposition is rapidly mounting – and not just from the usual suspects, environmentalists and planners. Leading developers may be predictably delighted, but many planning consultants and lawyers who advise them have voiced disquiet. So too have architects (who have no great love for restrictive planners), homelessness campaigners (whose aim is normally to get more houses built) and even one of the most senior Conservative MPs…

Not for us the sprawling concrete and heedless urban expansion that has so disfigured the United States and other countries. That is due to deliberate policy, stemming from how both Conservative and Labour governments set up and developed the planning system after the Second World War. Yet, as it nears its 75th anniversary, the system is showing its age. It is often slow, at times downright sclerotic.

Meanwhile, the country is sinking ever deeper into a housing crisis with millions of young adults unable to afford a home. ‘Boris the Builder’ Johnson is determined to construct hundreds of thousands of new homes and kickstart the economy in the process. They are both admirable aims and are desperately needed.

But I fear he’s launched a free-for-all for greedy developers – deeply alienating his core voters.

At present, elected councils draw up ‘local plans’ and then decide whether or not to give planning permission. At each stage the public has a say. Now the Government wants to replace this with a US-style ‘zoning system’, where councils decide what areas can be developed, but have no say over what is built. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick insists it will have local democracy ‘at its heart’. But, in fact, two opportunities for democratic participation will be cut to one. Once the zones have been decided – often many years before specific proposals come forward – that will be the end of it. Indeed, so dehumanised will the process become that some decisions will be taken by computer…

Objectors retort that they are being shown the back of his hand, while developers – who, it is calculated, have given over £11million to the Tories since Boris Johnson took office – get everything they desire.

That’s not to say it is all bad news. By law, all new streets will have to be lined with trees. Mr Jenrick says Green Belts – which are under unprecedented threat – will be protected, and there will be more building on previously developed, ‘brownfield’ land. As a Green Belt resident myself, who has campaigned for these supposedly protected areas both before and while living in one, I should welcome the new plans. 

But I fear that they come with a high risk of unattractive, unrestrained, unregulated developments elsewhere, and that they will not achieve their aims. More to the point, I believe millions of people will come to the same conclusion, causing widespread revolt.

Yes, the planning system needed improvement, but it is not the overarching problem ministers make it out to be. Nine out of ten applications for planning permission are granted. The real drag on development is not the planning system but the developers. They are sitting on sites, with planning permission, for a million homes – while they benefit from rising land values. When they do build, they do so slowly, so as not to bring prices down.

So if Boris really wants to build Jerusalem, he should focus on today’s equivalent of the mill owners – and let England’s ‘pleasant pastures’ remain just that.

Alarm over radical planning reforms that will place building burden on rich areas  | Daily Mail Online

   
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