Cannock Chase Council has given its views on the Planning for the Future White Paper which the Government consulted on between early August and late October.
The White Paper advocates reforms to the planning system by `streamlining and modernising the process through a new focus on design and sustainability, by improving the system of developer contributions and by providing more land for development`.
In total, the Government has made 24 proposals across three policy pillars and it is these proposals that the Council has responded to with its views.
In Pillar One `Planning for Development` it is proposed that land should be classed as either Growth, Renewal or Protected, but the Council argues that these zone definitions are too simplistic and is concerned that direction would be set nationally with less opportunity given to councils to alter schemes or show flexibility.
On house building the Government wants to see 300,000 new houses built annually or 1 million by December 2024, nationally. Cannock Chase Council is currently required to provide 278 new dwellings a year but with a proposed new method to calculate housebuilding based on local house prices and wages, this could potentially double each year according to the Council’s calculations.
The Council believes a major increase in dwellings does not factor in local constraints, and an assumption by Government that greater housing supply will increase affordability is unrealistic.
The Council believes the proposals would see planning authorities such as Cannock Chase Council no longer Call for Sites from developers but ask for submissions for zones. Submissions would therefore need to provide a greater level of detail and evidence to support their bid, almost as much as an outline application, and it is questionable if developers/promoters would be happy to do this.
Government hopes for faster decision making with greater use of digital technology including standardised applications and registers would rely on tech companies and software developers to fill this gap with councils needing to adopt these systems at a cost, but will Government provide financial support to enable this?
The proposal that Local Plans should be visual and map based, standardised, based on the latest digital technology and supported by a new template will require more investment by the Council’s Planning Service into hardware and software as well as training. It questions whether systems are already available or in development.
Furthermore, the intention to compress the plan making process down to three years from seven years would reduce the importance of the consultation and technical appraisal stages, in the Council’s view.
In Pillar Two `Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places`, which concerns design standards, the expectation is that designs will be visual and more predictable and prepared locally with community involvement, but this requires skills and resources that local planning authorities do not or no longer have. Furthermore, councils would be expected to have a chief officer for design and placemaking, but could this be afforded or is it even workable with one officer placed as the arbiter of what makes good design?
In Pillar Three `Planning for Infrastructure and Connected Places` the Council is concerned that reform of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), paid by developers, might see affordable housing delivery decline as national CIL rates are introduced which might not truly reflect local circumstances. Overall, the Council is concerned that investment in infrastructure may reduce with the proposed changes. It sees this investment as vital when new developments are given the go ahead.
Finally, the Government’s emphasis on providing first homes suggests providing housing for rent does not appear to be a priority anymore.
Councillor Tony Johnson, Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Planning, said of the White Paper proposals:
“This is the biggest shake up to our planning system since the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947. As a Council we recognise that change to the system is overdue and while much of our response is about seeking further information from Government, especially where new costs need to be met, we do have real concerns about some proposals.
“One of these has to be the dramatic increase in house building expected of us, in a District with limited land available for development and where green space and protected land features strongly and is valued by our residents.”
To read the Council’s response in full please visit the Council’s website and the page https://www.cannockchasedc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/planning_for_the_future_-_council_response_-_ac.pdf
New housing features strongly in the Council’s current plans but a potential doubling of new dwellings each year is seen as unsustainable.