You may have taken part in making your local neighbourhood plan.

But did you take part in helping to create the Lewes District Council Plan, which was passed last year or the South Downs Park plan?

No- thought not.

Probably you thought (if you thought about it at all) that you could always object to any individual planning decision that affected you when it was made.

Well brace yourself, because the key plank of the government’s proposals for planning change is to speed things up by doing away with your right to object in lots of cases.  If a proposal conforms to standard rules there will usually be no room to object. (page10)

Page references are to the pages of the Government white paper “Planning for the Future”, which you can see here

The Government will tell councils how many homes must be built

They do this now, but it looks as though the government will increase the figures with sanctions if councils do not comply (page 23).  This puts pressure on councils to allocate sites for housing.(and to designate more growth areas) (page 25)

In setting the figures the government will consider whether the area is in a national park or similar, but this seems to be the only concession to this kind of protection.  On the other hand areas where homes are very expensive will be set higher targets. (pages 32/3)

Councils will have to draw up new development plans. (p 20)

They do this already, and pressure has made them do some odd things, like deciding to build a whole lot of homes in the country at Wivelsfield.

But now they will have to set a load of rules for a ten year period, rather than policies. This means that they would have no flexibility over individual sites. They will also have to divide up land into three categories:

  • Growth areas for substantial development
  • Renewal areas suitable for development
  • Protected areas which could include some National Park areas, nature reserves, public green spaces and flood areas.

“Unnecessary” requirements are to be abolished (This might include Lewes Low Cost Housing, which aims to deliver homes people can afford at local wages, for example)

Neighbourhood plans would have to conform to these plans.

Affordable housing and community infrastructure combined (p22)

New developments create new demands for services like which councils and others must provide, such as schools, roads, medical facilities and so on. The government will set a standard contribution for this to be paid by developers based on the value of the scheme.  This contribution is supposed to cover infrastructure, the provision of “starter homes” and the provision of “affordable” housing.  So councils will have to choose- more money for infrastructure means fewer affordable homes.

Standard designs

Standard designs or templates would be drawn up similar to builder’s pattern books.  Some of these would be drawn up nationally, and some locally, perhaps with some input from local people. But who will get to choose in the end, people, government or developers?

Automatic approval

In a growth area outline planning permission would automatically be granted (page 34) Detailed consent would be automatically given if the proposals used the standard designs. There would be no public consultation. (page 34)
In renewal areas (in which most of us may be living) it appears that a similar process might be followed, with particular pre-specified forms of development automatically allowed. Other developments will simply need to conform to the local plan (page 35)

In protected areas the system would be similar to the current one.

Social Housing and bringing houses into use

The paper says nothing about social housing or bringing second homes, empty homes or holiday homes back into use as housing.  Last time the Eye looked the the total of these was about the same size as the council waiting list.  We are promised another paper on social housing which many people think is the real need.

What does it mean for you?

We don’t know the detail, and we may not know until too late but it looks like:

  • You will have little or no say if a neighbour or owner of a site near you decides to build something, so long as it fits a template, regardless of whether that template is appropriate for the site. If a developer buys the bungalow next door to yours and build a block of flats instead there may be little to stop them.
  • There will be even more pressure to designate land as a growth area even if it has little or no public transport or facilities nearby.  So more of the big development we have seen at the back of Peacehaven, Polegate, Wivelsfield and Hailsham may become even more common.  There may be bigger developments in Ringmer and places like Berwick may come under pressure.  The homes built may not be what the local area needs.
  • Only parks, nature reserves, flood areas and similar would be exempt from the new rules, but even then an application to build could be made.
  • The total amount of money in a scheme for infrastructure and affordable homes will be set by the government, which means that it could be a lot less.  Councils will have to decide on whether to go for money to improve infrastructure or for “affordable” homes.
  • Villages may not be safe.  Wealden council already has a plan to withdraw the development boundaries around villages and Lewes may be forced to do the same.
  • Neighbourhood plans will be constrained because they will be governed by the new prescriptive district plans. They will probably need to be remade.

Your one chance of influencing matters would be when the local plan is drawn up.  Although the government says it will make it easier to get involved, many people will still find it difficult.

What can you do?

At this early stage the Eye simply urges you to share this article widely so that as many other people know what is planned.  Do credit the Eye if quoting.

Do read the white paper which this article has linked to here If you think we have got it wrong please let us know explain where the errors are and what you think a correct interpretation is.

The Eye will produce some more detailed information when it has been possible to do a more detailed analysis.

Article date 9/8/20