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Our joint letter to the Telegraph about high street planning

On 18 January 2021 our joint letter, written together with 18 organisations, was published in the Telegraph:

Sir

We urge the Government to think again about its proposals to allow high street businesses to be changed to housing without full planning permission. Based on recent experience, we believe that the proposals, if enacted, will lower housing standards and accessible, natural green infrastructure provision, extinguish local democracy, and end public participation.

Permissions for over one million new homes are already in place but these have not been built out, according to the Local Government Association. There is little case to be made that the current system does not deliver consent for development.

We believe that local people and businesses are best placed to lead the change in town centres – for example, in providing more space for health and wellbeing purposes.

The planning system needs to ensure: local, democratically accountable decisions; the right to have a say over all development decisions; more genuinely affordable homes for local people; environmental protection and recovery for biodiversity; heritage protection and provision of accessible green space and conservation; and strong climate mitigation and adaptation duties.

Miriam Turner and Hugh Knowles
Co-Chief Executives, Friends of the Earth

Hugh Ellis
Director of Policy, Town and Country Planning Association

Crispin Truman
Chief Executive, CPRE

Ian Harvey
Executive Director, Civic Voice

Julie Hirigoyen
Chief Executive, UK Green Building Council

Craig Bennett
Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts

Beccy Speight
Chief Executive, RSPB

James Cooper
Head of External Affairs, The Woodland Trust

Peter Hinton
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists

David McDonald
Chair, Institute of Historic Building Conservation

Neil Redfern
Executive Director, Council for British Archaeology

Anna Liberadzki
Senior Campaigner, SumOfUs

Tom Platt
Director of Advocacy and Engagement, The Ramblers

Kit Stoner
Chief Executive, Bat Conservation Trust

Nicola Hodgson
Case Officer, Open Spaces Society

Fiona Mathews
The Mammal Society

Tony Gent
Chief Executive Officer, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Steve Chambers
Sustainable Transport Campaigner, Transport for New Homes

Naomi Luhde-Thompson
Director, Rights Community Action

This letter was first published in the Telegraph.

Roof trusses

Planning and COVID-19

Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic we noticed that planning and development were continuing. We asked you to get in touch about what was happening in your local area, to tell us how decisions were being made about new housing. We worried that changes to oversight of planning might mean that proper transport provision for new homes might be neglected.

Thank you to the many of you who got in touch. We had replies from all over the country. You told us that councils approached the problem of planning in different ways. Some moved to online planning committee meetings right away and others delayed decisions. It was difficult to keep up with the volume of applications for some authorities, so more decisions were delegated to officers.

Online planning committees were sometimes reserved for the biggest applications. As we were busy finalising our Garden Communities report we were interested to know if any of them were going through planning and affected by COVID-19. Many Garden Towns and Garden Villages are progressing through the planning system.

Just before our report launched a planning inspector approved some and threw out other new Garden Communities as part of a local plan in Essex. On the day our report launched, Buckinghamshire Council met to approve the garden town plan in Aylesbury.

One thing many of you told us that is concerning was the reduction or complete elimination of the opportunity to speak at planning committee because of COVID-19 and remote working. The reasons for this varied from the limited amount of time available, technical limitations or because a decision had been delegated to officers.

Overall, we found a mixed bag of council planning responses to COVID-19. But what linked them all was a reduction of the ability for residents to make their voices heard. It is harder now to make the case against car-based sprawl and for sustainable transport. We think councils should return to their previous ways of working as soon as is practical and restore public involvement as soon as they can.

Building site

Let us know how changes to the planning system are affecting your area

Planning and the making of planning decisions have not stopped because of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis. The Coronavirus Act 2020 gave councils the ability to run planning committees remotely. However, even before this legislation became law many authorities were making new arrangements for planning decisions, including delegating decisions to officers and council leaders rather than scheduling committee meetings in a council chamber where the public could submit questions and statements and also speak.

Councils are acting under pressure from central government to keep planning consents and development going. You might have seen in the news or noticed in your own community that site work continues. This is because planning and development are not on hold.

We know that good planning decisions with committee scrutiny and public involvement are crucial for getting new homes with good sustainable transport. We are concerned that changes to the system might have an impact on the quality of what gets built.

Can we ask you to spend a few minutes answering some questions about how your local council is adapting their planning decision making process? If you let us know about any big developments that are due to be decided soon that would really help too.

Once we’ve got a picture of what is going on we hope to produce some advice on challenging large developments that come through planning at this time, with a view to ensuring sustainable transport isn’t forgotten when new homes are built.

It would be great to get your input by 18 May.

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