Government planning reforms U-turn
Consultation to remain a key part of the planning process
The Times today is reporting that the Government has changed its approach to reforming the planning system.
The aim was to replace the existing planning process with a zonal system and mandatory housing targets. This would shift planning consent to the local plan stage with no need for applications to then come to planning committees. This would remove the opportunity for input from residents, reduce the role of local councillors in determining planning applications, and reduce consultation overall.
The plans did provoke significant feedback from grass roots Conservatives opposed to such radical reforms. Removing such an important level of democratic consultation and oversight on planning was seen as a step backwards, not forwards.
The Times reported back in September that the reforms were to be changed and a revised approach was contained in a recent submission to the Lords Built Environment Committee.
The Government’s submission not only reaffirmed the continuing role for public consultation as part of the planning application process, even where the principle of development had been agreed, it went further. The Government said: “Our reforms will give communities a greater voice from the start of the planning process . . . We also want to see more democratic accountability, with communities having a more meaningful say on the development schemes which affect them, not less.”
Does this mean the Government wants to see more detailed and extensive consultation? What the submission actually means in terms of the planning process and consultation is not made clear and we will probably have to wait for final reforms to be published to know.
The Government has a difficult balance to find here: local consultations usually result in negative responses as those opposed to development are often far more motivated to participate in the consultation process. The key is encouraging a broader range of residents to be involved in decisions about the future of their communities, motivating the usually silent majority to participate in consultations. This especially applies to the younger generations who rarely participate despite this being more about their futures.
The Government now accepts the importance of local consultation in both the local plan and planning processes, and looks set to enhance requirements in both as the reforms are finalised.