• Campaigners angry at Growth and Infrastructure Bill

    5th November 2012 | News | Claire
  • Campaigners have accused the government of creating a developers’ charter with its Growth and Infrastructure Bill being debated in the Commons later.

    The government says the bill is needed to stimulate development.

    But critics say it betrays ministers’ promises to leave planning decisions to be made at local level.

    They say it will rush through greenfield schemes for business and housing against the wishes of people living nearby.

    Ministers have been persuaded that the planning system causes unnecessary delays to projects that will help the economy and create jobs.

    The bill will create a fast-track for large-scale business and commercial projects which will allow decisions to be taken within 12 months.

    Decisions on business and retail parks in future may be taken by the secretary of state in the first instance.

    It will allow developers to submit plans directly to the national Planning Inspectorate where councils have a track record of poor performance.

    The bill will relax rules on developers to deliver social housing, and make it easier to install broadband infrastructure.

    It will also make it harder for residents to use “village green” rules to prevent development in their local area.

    John Hoad,  Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says the provisions make a mockery of the government’s stated commitment to localism.

    CPRE says the plans will spoil some of the UK’s best-loved landscapes. It warns of a rash of “broadband clutter” in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

    It believes the bill will be counter-productive. John Hoad, head of planning at CPRE, said: “Government rhetoric about local planning inefficiency and bureaucracy holding up economic growth is a diversion from the real issue – lack of funding for development.

    “The bill is a poor recipe for delivering either growth or infrastructure. The new laws, combined with the disingenuous message ministers are sending about unnecessary red tape, will seriously damage the capacity of the planning system to protect our countryside and environment and deliver the right growth in the right locations.”

    Village greens
    The Open Spaces Society is particularly angered by changes to village green laws, which apply to any patches of open ground enjoyed by local people – not just in villages.

    Kate Ashbrook, its general secretary, said: “The clause will make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to register land as a town or village green once it has been identified for development.

    “The government wants to stop so-called ‘vexatious’ applications to register greens which, it claims, are being submitted solely to thwart development. In fact, few applications are purely vexatious and the clause has the effect of killing genuine applications too.”

    These and other green groups are also separately strongly opposing plans for almost 200 new road schemes in the countryside, which businesses say will help stimulate the economy.

    The greens thought they had won the intellectual war over the economics of road building after the government’s technical committee SACTRA warned in the 1990s that there was no guarantee that road building would stimulate jobs.

    In fact, the committee said, new roads might actually drain economic activity from a depressed remote area.

    CPRE president Sir Andrew Motion said: “New roads will ruin our precious landscape and produce even more misery-making bottlenecks and tailbacks. Other solutions are infinitely preferable – solutions that do not compromise unique and beautiful countryside.”

    ‘Aspiration nation’
    He is especially concerned about plans for the Wye Valley; the green belt round Durham; the Peak District (Mottram-Tintwistle bypass); Blackdown Hills; and the Norfolk Broads.

    The prime minister said on publication of the Growth Bill: “(This) is all about helping our country compete in the global race and building an aspiration nation where we back those who want to get on in life.

    “We are slashing unnecessary bureaucracy, giving business the confidence to invest, unlocking big infrastructure projects and supporting hardworking people to realise their dreams.”

    The bill has been welcomed by developers who say the current rules inhibit projects in unintended ways.

    For instance, the law allows councils to oblige developers to pay towards local infrastructure if they build, say, a new office block. It is a de facto development tax.

    If developers want to vary a planning consent they are liable to pay a second fee that could run to millions of pounds for a very big scheme. The bill will stop this sort of double-charging.

    Developers also say the rule obliging them to create social housing as part of private developments makes some schemes unviable. This too will be altered. And less paperwork will be needed for a planning application.

    Labour’s shadow planning minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods, said: “All in all the planning system and communities could be seriously damaged by this knee-jerk response to the government’s economic failure.”

    Alister Scott, Professor of Environmental and Spatial Planning at Birmingham University said: “The Bill is presented at a time when public confidence in politicians is at its lowest and ministers should not forget their populist mantra of localism, localism, localism.

    “Now, amidst concerns that the wrong sort of localism might result, the government have seen fit to change the agenda in favour of Secretary of State centralism, centralism, centralism. Never has the planning system been in such a pickle.”