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Poll reveals growing alarm among councillors at planning reforms

Words: Huw Morris
Planning For The Future White Paper

Nearly eight out of 10 councillors think government reforms will make planning less democratic amid increasing alarm at moves to speed up housebuilding.

A poll by Savanta Comres for planning communications specialists BECG shows that 78 per cent of members think the reforms will make the planning system less democratic.

Breaking down the figures, this view is shared by 90 per cent of Labour councillors and, in a sign of a growing rebellion against the government’s plans, 61 per cent of Tories. Government proposals to introduce growth, renewal and protection zones may also have an unintended side effect. Just over half of councillors - 52 per cent - think there should be a review of the Green Belt with Labour and Conservatives split on the issue at 64 per cent and 47 per cent respectively.

But there is huge opposition to Green Belt release among members with 65 per cent thinking such a review should add land to the category. The poll also reveals considerable push-back against the government’s view that consultation should be focused on the preparation of Local Plans and less intense during the promotion of a planning application. A total of 64 per cent believe the majority of consultation should take place when considering individual applications, rather than when making Local Plans, contrary to the reforms.

“This report highlights the huge challenges facing the Government’s planning reforms,” sayid BECG managing director Andrew Howard.

“There is significant scepticism amongst Conservative councillors, and the government will have to put in some serious spade work to persuade their local government colleagues to embrace these changes, which many see as eroding local democratic control of planning.”

The survey shows 56 per cent of members think face-to-face consultations are the most effective way of engaging the views of constituents with just 3 per cent preferring virtual consultations. However, 40 per cent think both methods are equally effective. More recently elected councillors are most likely to believe both are equally effective - 54 per cent - while those who have served for longer are significantly more likely to prefer traditional methods at 67 per cent.

BECG said that while face-to-face consultations will return as an important piece of any engagement programme, virtual consultations are also here to stay. Councillors also increasingly accept that digitisation of the planning system and virtual engagement have an important role to play although they are not accepted as a panacea, the company added. Some 42 per cent think digitisation will allow residents to better understand and engage with developments in their area, but 43 per cent believe it will not.

The results tie in with concerns expressed by the Local Government Association (LGA) which has consistently warned against any loss of local control over developments.

LGA chairman James Jamieson said such a loss “would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas”.