Council chiefs slam changes to planning law

New changes to planning law introduced by the Government “seem poorly thought out”, according to Waltham Forest Council’s leadership.

From September, developers wishing to demolish unused buildings for homes and commercial or retail properties will not need to submit a full planning application.

Homeowners will also be able to add up to two more storeys to their home through a “fast track approval process”.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP claims the reforms cut out “unnecessary bureaucracy” and will revive town centres with more enterprise and housing.

But Cllr Simon Miller, responsible for economic growth and housing delivery in Waltham Forest, accused the Government of taking a “planning by numbers” approach.

Cllr Miller said: “Waltham Forest is committed to growth that delivers much needed housing and social, community and health infrastructure on both public and private sector land to meet the needs of local residents.

“We clearly welcome any reforms that remove red tape and facilitate housing delivery.  However, some of the reforms seem poorly thought out.

“The new permitted development rights for new homes are complex and it’s difficult to see how this is a more efficient route than making a planning application.

“We believe that a proactive planning system should be designed with the aspiration of achieving good quality new homes for local people, rather than a “planning by numbers” approach which is difficult to understand.”

He fears the changes could lead to space with industrial or “less economically viable uses” being converted into profit-generating residential or office space.

He added: “I would have hoped that local authorities’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic would have demonstrated to Government that our organisations are responsible and responsive and that watering down regulatory services across the country is not a reasonable response to the failure of a few councils to properly plan for their areas.”

The Government is now consulting on proposals to grant “automatic” planning permission for housing developments on any land earmarked for growth.

Waltham Forest Council has consistently met and exceeded its target for new housing over the last three years.”

Redbridge Council warned that the changes could result in a “free-for-all” for develpers.

Changes to planning laws being introduced could mean a “free for all for developers” in Redbridge.

Cllr Vanisha Solanki (Lab, Fullwell), a member of the council’s planning committee, said: “The planning process isn’t perfect but it needs control and rules otherwise you end up with poorly designed, and over developed areas. 

“The Government hasn’t thought this through and needs to work with local authorities on what changes are required.”

She explained that the last relaxation of planning rules meant office blocks could be converted into homes and retail units could open as takeaways “all without the requirement for planning permission or local input”.

The new rules would enable redevelopments like the one planned for the Harrison Gibson site, sent back to the developers due to a lack of affordable housing, to pass with less scrutiny from councillors.

Cllr Solanki added: “Affordable and social housing is something we need in the borough, and I worry it’s something that will be overlooked by developers especially on land that is designated for renewal. 

“The Prime Minister’s pledge to build, build, build will mean a heavy price for local authorities and local residents.”

Another member of the committee, Cllr Varinder Singh-Bola (Lab, Cranbrook), criticised the Government for failing to consult with councils before making the changes.

He said: “The Government’s lack of consultation with councils, who understand local needs best, makes it abundantly clear that these proposals are being rushed through. 

“Our local communities deserve to have a greater say in shaping the regeneration that is taking place around us and in deciding what is right for our town.

“This disgraceful relaxing of planning regulations by the Government is all about helping developers and not about in the interest of local communities. 

“It will not help us get the social housing and genuinely affordable homes that we so desperately need right now.”

When announcing the new laws, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “We are reforming the planning system and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy to give small business owners the freedom they need to adapt and evolve, and to renew our town centres with new enterprises and more housing.

“These changes will help transform boarded up, unused buildings safely into high quality homes at the heart of their communities.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter