Published: 16:57, 12 May 2021
| Updated: 16:59, 12 May 2021
A controversial shake-up in the planning system could leave councils having no say on developments, according to campaign groups.
The Kent Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) expressed alarm over proposals announced in the Queen's Speech, which would allow developers to build without any need for planning permission.
The government is already facing a backlash over the reforms, with some Conservative council leaders already voicing their opposition while former PM Theresa May has expressed disquiet.
Dr Hilary Newport of the Kent CPRE said local communities could be bypassed under the new planning framework that could see permission granted automatically.
“There is going to be a massive reduction in the degree to which people can actually engage with planning decisions that affect them.”
“There are some really worrying plans about these infrastructure payments not being payable until homes are occupied.
"That's the very reason why there is such local widespread opposition to big housing schemes: it’s because we don't see the infrastructure upfront and we'll see a quality of life getting much worse before it gets better.”
“It flies in the face of what the Environment Bill is saying...It's just going to massively increase the delivery of land for house building that's the opposite of what's being spoken about in terms of protection of land and enhancing biodiversity in green spaces.”
Legislation if passed would require councils to zone swathes of land for “growth”, “protection” or “renewal”. Land allocated for growth would benefit from automatic outline planning permission and councils would be powerless to turn down applications.
Documents explaining the proposals said they would “significantly decrease the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.”
The documents said there would be “more certainty for communities and developers, particularly smaller developers, about what is permitted where, through clear land allocations in local plans and stronger rules on design.”
One council leader said the shake-up would lead to development in areas where there was less need for homes.
Cllr Roger Truelove, the Labour leader of Swale council, said: “Local government is just going to be reduced to finding land allocations which will then have automatic planning permission without any input from the local community or the council about the desirability of sites, design and the construction of sites and whether they meet social need.
"The government wants us to have a role but it is a role where they would dictate what happens.
"They have this idea that has development is being held back by local councils. But actually it is is being held back by the cost of land.”
He added many developers held back building despite having permission for it because they were waiting for the value to increase, under what is known as land banking.
“You cannot blame them for doing that but what we will end up with is a lot of land allocations that will outstrip demand.”
"The government wants us to have a role but it is a role where they would dictate what happens..."
Liberal Democrat planning committee spokesman Tony Harwood added: "In the local elections in Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere the public made clear that they don't want government to take away what little local control they still have over important planning decisions in their area.
"The Queen’s Speech proposals, as the CPRE have pointed out, will take England back to the ‘Wild West’ style of uncontrolled development we saw in the 1920s and 1930s and will effectively prevent anyone but the Development Industry having any say over future development."
The issue of infrastructure is politically sensitive for the government and in the recent election, the Conservatives in Kent campaigned on a pledge to ensure that local people had a say on controversial house building plans.
Last year, Kent MPs were instrumental in forcing the government to retreat over a plan to use an algorithm to calculate house-building targets which would have seen increases in some areas already highly developed.