Protecting the public's say in the planning process
Councillor Robin Ashby proposed a motion to Newcastle City Council on 1st September 2021 on this topic, the full text of which is below
Afterwards he said : "I proposed this motion not because Newcastle City Council has done nothing about the Government's proposals on further changes to the planning system - I shudder to use their word "reform" because in my view such a word implies improvements, many of which are illusory.
It has. It has made a detailed submission already.
But we need to keep key matters at the forefront of public debate, and ensure that local people understand what could be taken away from them.
There is a One Core Strategy in place for Tyneside up to 2030, which was subject to an extensive public enquiry at Gateshead Civic Centre, and offers some safeguards. But what happens after that expires?
The proposals, which may be confirmed as a Bill in the autumn, are causing huge concerns to residents in areas of major construction like Great Park, and in villages like Hazlerigg fearing encroachment. Just east across the A1 in my ward of Parklands 168 houses have been built where formerly there was agriculture, and long term residents fear there will be a grab for another large field to the south.
This will add to the hollowing out of Newcastle's central areas and puts yet more pressure on roads already heavily trafficked, schools with shrinking catchment areas and other facilities. The City Council's joint venture Tynexe, on whose Board I am one of your representatives, is doing some valuable brown field development, but reclamation costs are significant and delaying. It's so much easier for building companies to dig up fields on the fringes of the City.
What's being discussed will reduce the voice of local people in the face of development conglomerates who will have a greater presumption that their plans will be implemented. They are currently turning in vast profits - almost a billion pounds a year in one case of a company which is active here. And they have a significant voice in the corridors of power.
It's proposed that the 20 biggest cities in the country, including Newcastle, will have to boost their housebuilding permissions by over a third. Local plans, established locally and subject to democratic debate and scrutiny, take into account housing need, as we currently do here. An arbitrary increase of 35%, as is being discussed, does nothing for us except the loss of carbon-absorbing green belt and local control. And yet there are already vast swathes in the north of the city under construction - but without much supporting infrastructure.
Upper, Middle and Lower Callerton have, or have in the pipeline, planning permissions for 3650 new homes. That's a significant increase in the case of Upper Callerton, and it's reported that there will be a new primary school and potentially a GP's surgery. There is already pressure on the schools under construction on the Great Park, which have taken many years to materialise.
97 hectares - 240 acres in the old money - will go from what was our green belt.
Note that word "potentially". There has been potentially a GP's surgery on the Great Park for years, but it's still not there. There's potentially been a town centre for more than a decade, but only a handful of units are occupied. The rents are sky high. I wonder if there's some cause and effect here, including a desire to for change of use.
So if the Conservative ministers have been listening to their dinner companions at Party fundraisers, there'll be many more houses built on green fields in future. Little is said about rehabilitating or repurposing housing stock in areas that already have shops and schools and medical facilities and public transport.
There are an estimated 1 million homes nationally that have already been agreed but which remain unbuilt. It is not the councils or the communities that are at fault, it is the developers and landowners who have been allowed to inflate their prices to create undeliverable schemes or sit on land for an increased resale value. They can game the system by submitting planning applications they know will fail, as a way of establishing, through the appeal system, what's the most they can get out of the process. They then blame "the system" for the inevitable delays.
One of the ideas being discussed is to do away with Section 106 agreements which have been of some offsetting value for infrastructure. The Liberal Democrats would support moves to reduce the ability for the hoarding of land by introducing some form of land value capture, which would benefit the local community whilst still allowing a profit for landowners.
It is believed that the Tories will use the platform of their Party Conference next month to parade their "developers' charter". So I invited Council again to send them a clear message - "listen to the people".
Text of motion:
· 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 the vast majority of planning applications are given the go ahead by local authority planning committees, with permission granted to around 9 out of 10 applications.
· That research by the Local Government Association has said that there are existing planning permissions for more than one million homes that have not yet been started.
Council is concerned that the proposals seek to:
· Reduce or remove the right of residents to object to applications near them.
· Grant automatic rights for developers to build on land identified as 'for growth'.
· Remove section 106 payments for infrastructure and their replacement with a national levy.
Council Further Notes:
· The Royal Institute for British Architects called the proposals 'shameful and which will do almost nothing to guarantee delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes'. RIBA also said that proposals could lead to the next generation of slum housing.
· The reforms are opposed by the all-party Local Government Association, currently led by Conservative Councillors.
· That existing planning procedures, as currently administered by our own team in Newcastle, allow for local democratic control over future development, and give local people a say in planning proposals that affect them.
· That proposals for automatic rights to build in 'growth' areas, and increased permitted development rights, risk unregulated growth and unsustainable communities.
· That local communities must be in the driving seat on shaping the future of their communities, and local determination of the planning framework and planning applications play an important part in this process.
Council resolves to:
· Continue to take part in the consultation of the planning proposals, and to make representations against the proposals as outlined in this motion.
· Write to and lobby our Members of Parliament, urging them to oppose these proposals and to circulate their replies to members.
· Highlight its concerns over these proposals with the public and local residents."