With planning reforms recently announced in the Queen’s Speech, the storm is about to break, of protest from community groups engaged with planning decisions about their local environment.
In 2011 you could have been forgiven for thinking that the introduction of the Localism Act would have helped improve developer/resident relations.It aimed to hand decisions about planning to local councils rather than central government and through engaging local populations, enabling them to more effectively shape decisions about the local environment.
This was apparently the hope of the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Minister of State for Decentralisation, “For too long, Central Government has hoarded and concentrated power. Trying to improve people’s lives by imposing decisions, setting targets and demanding inspections from Whitehall simply doesn’t work. It creates bureaucracy. It leaves no room for adaptation to reflect local circumstances or innovation to deliver services more effectively and at lower cost. And it leaves people feeling ‘done to’ and imposed upon – the very opposite of the sense of participation and involvement on which a healthy democracy thrives.” (A plain English guide to the Localism Act 2011).
Councils have failed to engage on planning with local people
Sadly the majority of councils have failed to effectively engage local people, who in the main continue to feel ignored and shut out of planning decisions. In fact, Central Government has continued to pull the strings, cutting funding to councils while imposing unsuitable house building targets. Councillors now view profit from housing and other schemes as a way to balance the books. This does not lead to decisions based on what is best but what is profitable. Along with the presumption that planning permission should be granted, this has resulted in a toxic cocktail for many communities.
Residents have formed local planning campaigns
Up and down the country, residents have formed campaigns to challenge the decisions handed down to them. These have arisen out of a desire to be heard and for the views of local residents to be acted upon rather than ignored or merely paid lip service to. The battle for the countryside is set to intensify as the government attempts to ‘cut red tape’ in a desperate rush to push urbanisation through in all its forms, be it in new housing, roads or projects such as the London Resort Theme Park on the Swanscombe Peninsula in North Kent.
These community planning groups have made a national alliance
Many Kent campaigns have joined a new national group for campaigners fighting grassroots environmental and planning battles across the UK. A month after the launch, over 400 campaign groups had added themselves to the Community Planning Alliance’s grassroots map.
The founders of the group are based across the country, from Manchester and Sheffield, to Essex and Hampshire, and the alliance now has members in every county. Rosie Pearson, one of the five founders said, “We are all seasoned campaigners. We have all seen how the planning system is stacked against communities and residents. However, what we have also seen is that when campaigners, residents groups and parish councils come together, it is possible to create better outcomes.
We set up the map to see how many campaigns like ours there are and were astonished to see it fill up with 400 campaign groups so fast. We were inundated with messages from people asking how people could work together. The map is shocking – it is a very visual picture of the threats to our natural environment and a demonstration of how local authorities and government policy so often works against residents. The ‘build, build, build’ agenda is threatening landscapes and communities everywhere.
We are very excited that we have been able to bring together this new group so quickly. We have two goals: to create a supportive network for campaigners, so that they can share knowledge, and to lobby for change to the planning system.”
A warning to the government on planning
Only by engaging with communities will authorities stem the tide of opposition to building plans and fulfil their obligations to work in the best interests of residents. This should be a priority for the government, not an afterthought. The number of campaigns and the visible objections represented on the map should serve as a warning to the government that people will not sit by quietly whilst the land is ripped up around them.
If you would like to add your campaign to the map please follow this link https://bit.ly/3oqncZ5