A survey of over 1,200 ward councillors in England, carried out by the Local Government Information Unit, and commissioned by the National Trust, reveals councillors’ view that the planning system works in the interests of developers over councils and local communities.
The survey found that:
- Over half of councillors say that sites that are not in line with the Council’s plan are being approved for housing in their area;
- There are also concerns about Green Belt release and the loosening of the planning system through the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office to residential use conversion, barn conversions and other changes of use;
- Councillors also have concerns about the under-resourcing of planning teams.
In debates on the future of the planning system the views of councillors are often overlooked – and yet, as local decision-makers, and an important link with local communities, they have an essential role to play in ensuring development is sensitive to the needs of an area.
Key survey findings
- 72% of councillors say that the system is too weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities;
- Half of councillors say sites that are not in line with the local plan are being approved for new housing;
- Half of councillors believe planning departments are not adequately resourced;
- 58% of councillors with Green Belt in their area think that their council will allocate Green Belt land for housing in the next five years;
- The National Planning Policy Framework does not appear to be having the positive impact it was intended to have on design quality – with only 18% of councillors feeling design has improved since the NPPF was drawn up, and only 12% of councillors think that the loosening of planning restrictions has had a positive effect.
Housing White Paper
There are concerns the new Housing White Paper, expected later this month, could make matters worse, if it sets rigid housing numbers for local plans which don’t take account of local factors such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
As the Government puts the final touches to the Housing White Paper, the National Trust and LGiU hope that Ministers will take a number of sensible steps to improve the confidence that councillors have in the way the planning system works, including:
- More resources for Local Planning Authorities to help get local plans in place;
- Stronger Government backing for councils setting design standards;
- A smart approach to meeting housing need which allows councils to recognise local constraints and focuses development in the most appropriate places.
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGiU, said: “The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing communities to help shape the physical structure of the places they live. Councillors are the most important link between communities and that system. Our survey with the National Trust shows that many councillors feel that this democratic tool is at risk of being undermined.”
Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the National Trust, said:“It’s now almost 5 years after the Government’s planning framework was adopted, so it’s worrying that councillors feel it hasn’t delivered the localism that was promised. If ministers are serious about Local Plans being at the heart of the planning system, then they should invest in council planning teams and use the Housing White Paper to give them the tools to deliver good quality housing in the right places.”