Planning system change in England

Changes to the planning system in England, which are expected to make it easier to gain consent, are coming into force later today.

Ministers have suggested creating a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" to ensure more homes, offices and factories are built.

But opponents say the scheme could weaken environmental protections.

A draft version of the new guidelines reduced a 1,300-page document to 52 pages - the final booklet is just 50.  The revised national planning policy framework will be published today, following months of consultations with builders, environmental groups and other organisations.

It comes into force immediately, with Planning Minister Greg Clark outlining the scheme to MPs.
Whitehall sources say it will be presented as an "unashamedly pro-growth document".

Planning Minister Greg Clark said he would outline in detail the tests required for a development to be considered "sustainable".

 "The essence of sustainability is that it doesn't destroy those things that are precious to us."

He said it was important to encourage growth so businesses could expand whilst maintaining the protections of the countryside and green belt.

A draft version of the framework, released last summer, said sustainable development should be allowed to go ahead.

Opponents of the changes, including the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, argue they will weaken protection for the green belt and increase people's reliance on cars.

The CPRE raised concerns that the definition of "sustainable development" was too vague to govern planning policy in the draft proposals and local plans, which set out what development councils want in their area, could give way to a "free for all".

It has also been reported that a new clause is likely to be inserted into the paper creating new rules against "garden-grabbing" - the selling of garden land for extra development.
The Countryside Alliance said local people in the countryside wanted affordable housing and for rural businesses to be able to expand - and that they were the best placed to decide what development was appropriate and what should be opposed.

Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman, said the first draft of the changes had been too vague on giving power to communities, and he hoped the government had listened to local concerns before the final document.

Friends of the Earth director Craig Bennett added: "There are mounting concerns that ministers will unleash a building free-for-all that will infuriate local communities and devastate our countryside."

He said new regulations must spell out what was meant by "sustainable development" to ensure the right buildings were in the right place and in the best interests of local people and the environment.