The planning system has a big impact on our daily lives. What we build and where we locate it affects our health and well-being, the natural environment, our quality of life and climate change. It’s vital it supports the creation of high quality, low carbon, affordable communities and gives people real power over the decisions that affect them most.
The Government has published proposals to radically reform the planning system and the consultation ends on Thursday (29 October). Its White Paper rightly wants to rebuild trust in planning and promote good design. However, this won’t be achieved by removing people’s right to scrutinise and challenge developments.
Similarly, allowing larger developments to go through a national planning process (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects), the same as for strategic new roads, would be a backward step. This process has already led to a loss of democratic scrutiny of new roads, with very compressed deadlines and overwhelming amounts of paperwork favouring well resourced developers.
Modern tools of engagement are needed, but so is an overarching principle that planning is about sustainable development that prioritises health and well-being.
One of the critical elements to achieving this is sustainable transport, yet the White Paper is strangely silent on this. It fails to require that development is only located in places which are well served by public transport or have the ability to be. In fact it does the opposite by pushing higher levels of house building in the countryside away from major urban areas.
This is particularly disappointing and smacks of dysfunctional Government given Grant Shapps’ stated ambition that “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.” This is already impossible for residents in the many new, out-of-town sprawling developments springing up all over the country. The White Paper, far from fixing this broken part of the planning system, will make it worse.
There’s also an urgent need to refocus planning to provide for communities. Just building houses does not create places people necessarily want to live. It results in car-centric dormitory developments with few or no local services and amenities. Without high quality sustainable transport and almost solely based on large road schemes, these new developments contain vast swathes of tarmac and leave people isolated without a car. In the worst examples people are having to drive 7 miles to get a pint of milk!
This is the part of planning that is broken. It needs fixing and fixing fast before it is too late to stop car use and carbon emissions spiralling out of control. We need a planning system that supports government policies to reduce carbon emissions, promote active travel and healthier lifestyles, reduce air pollution, reduce pressure on the NHS, and regenerate town centres and local economies.
You may also be interested in signing a Charter for Democracy in Planning which has been developed by Rights: Community: Action . It sets out a positive vision for a planning system that responds to local voices, strengthening democracy rather than undermining it, delivers on well-being and tackles climate change.