I don’t know what Anthony Monoprio, the lead architect of Crawley Development Corporations new town plan, would make of the proposed changes to the planning system. The proposals are so bad that even the local Conservatives don’t support them!
A motion calling on the Council’s Chief Executive to write to the Government raising our concerns with the proposals and the effect that they might have on Crawley was debated at the Full Council meeting on Wednesday 21st October. As Cabinet member for Planning I was keen to speak and draw attention to some of the potential impacts on Crawley’s residents and businesses. Here are the words from my speech and the motion, which was passed unanimously by all Councillors.
Cllr Peter Smith
Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development
We need planning changes that offer help for Crawley residents and businesses not turn control over to property developers Cllr Peter Smith
Speech: Government white paper – Planning for the Future
I have read the Government’s white paper ‘Planning for the Future’ and it has some reasonable objectives of which I will just mention a couple:
Increasing the number of houses built to resolve the Housing crisis – I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that.
Deliver on our commitment to infrastructure first – this is very much needed as we often find that infrastructure delivery lags behind house building leading to congestion on our roads, lack of school, doctors and dentists. In fact it is a common complaint and a justifiable complaint from our residents when we review planning applications on the planning committee that we shouldn’t allow development as there is already a shortfall of infrastructure and more building will simply make the problem worse.
Setting a deadline for all local authorities to have an up-to-date local plan – this is welcomed. I am proud to say that in Crawley our current plan – Crawley Local Plan 2015 – 2030 was passed in December 2015 and that we are on schedule to deliver a five year review of it – the Crawley Local Plan 2020 – 2035. This is a critical activity to prevent predatory and unwanted development from developers that get refused by planning committee but then approved on appeal as the local authority didn’t have an up to date local plan. We have seen this happen on our boundaries, but not in Crawley as we have an up to date local plan.
But when we start to look into the details and think about them in the context of Crawley’s needs and spatial context we find that there are some proposals that are very concerning. The motion has highlighted a few major issues so I will just talk about a couple that are not in the motion.
It’s all about homes – well the paper is, but it isn’t just all about homes is it? The people that occupy the homes will need jobs and so we need to ensure that there is space for industry and employment sites and that they get delivered. As a ‘land-locked’ Borough we are already finding it difficult to provide enough employment sites for our existing and predicted population and in the latest local plan are revisiting the temporary use of parts of the Gatwick safeguarded land.
Tenures – the white paper is very strong on home ownership with a whole section on first time buyers – the ‘First Homes’ scheme. This is something that I welcome but it misses the point for Crawley that our overwhelming priority need is to deliver Affordable social rent housing. The white paper has little to offer for the people on our waiting lists and for our children and grandchildren as people get forced into buying houses that they can’t afford as the only option.
Local Democracy – the proposals talk about changing to a ‘zone’ system where all of the town will be categorised into, only, three categories: ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’ and ‘Protection’. These categories would be decided when a Local Plan is produced meaning that once a zone is approved there would be no need for a Planning committee to review applications and no possibility for members or residents to get involved in the detail of applications. This is something that would be mightily unpopular with Crawley residents if the number of objections and comments we get on typical planning applications is anything to go by!
Creating Beautiful sustainable places – the paper talks about getting local people involved in setting ‘their own design guides and codes’ but also refers to a ‘National Model Design Code’. We do try to use national design codes where they exist for things like room sizes – which I think is a good thing, but having a design code or set of design codes that covers every example will be difficult to achieve. And in any case we have most of this fully covered in the existing planning system with often much more flexible policies around garden sizes, parking, water use etc, etc so why not use that?
And just to reinforce my earlier point, at Planning Committee we often have discussions and decisions to make where an application does not fully conform to the design policies in the Local Plan – the proposed changes would remove all of this.
I am not opposed to change and there are certainly many things that could be done to improve the current planning system. But when I look at these proposals and the pressing needs that we have in Crawley – like space to build homes, delivering decent affordable homes and increasing job availability – the White paper does not cover or offer reassurance that they have even begun to understand the problem for Crawley let alone offering solutions that would help Crawley, its residents and its businesses.
I would urge all members to support the motion so that we may send a joint and clear message to the Government, as laid out in the motion asking them to have another think!
Motion to Full Council
Proposed by Cllr Duncan Crow Seconded by Cllr Peter Lamb
This Council notes:
- The publication by Government of the White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’ on 6 August 2020, which set out proposals on reforms to the planning process for the future.
- That currently, the vast majority of planning applications are given the go ahead by local authority planning officers and committees, with permission granted to around 9 out of 10 applications across the UK.
- While some of the analysis of the problems existing within the planning service are accepted, too many of the solutions put forward will not help the situation but may worsen it.
- That the following proposals contained within the White Paper are of particular concern regarding their potential impact for planning in Crawley:
- The proposals should not result in a decline in on-site provision of affordable housing. In a land constrained borough, it is difficult to secure alternative sites for off-site provision. “Developer discretion” over which units are affordable is a significant concern. The council should be able to continue to set its own affordable housing requirement and tenure mix through the Local Plan examination process.
- Removal of the Duty to Cooperate, meaning there is no requirement to cooperate with regard to major developments close to shared boundaries, as well as address unmet needs.
- The setting of a binding housing target based on constraints which are unclear.
- That a formula-based approach does not avoid the need to make substantive, strategic decisions about the distribution of housing, and has the disadvantage of a greater perceived lack of transparency and legitimacy when applied at local level.
- The potential loss of local democracy, accountability and engagement as part of the development management process, if increased delegation reduces or minimises the future role of the Planning Committee.
- The contradiction of increasing Permitted Development Rights, particularly for proposals such as two storey upward extensions, against the White Paper’s increasing emphasis on good design and automated decisions against Design Codes.
- That a nationally set Infrastructure Levy will fail to take account of differences in viability. Conversely, there is a concern that the threshold below which the Levy won’t be charged could result in development taking place in viability challenging areas within the borough, but making no contribution to infrastructure or affordable housing, therefore risking a reduction in the future provision of new affordable housing.
Therefore, this Council resolves to:
- Highlight these concerns within the response provided by the Council to the consultation.
- On behalf of all members, instruct the Chief Executive to formally write to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, stating the Council’s cross-party concern to these proposals and to seek revised proposals that better serve future planning in Crawley.