Towns and villages across the Westcountry are “under siege” by developers, according to landscape campaigners who found that two-thirds of council decisions to block major schemes are being overturned on appeal.
The Government’s planning reforms are unnecessarily damaging the countryside and undermining local democracy, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has claimed in a new report published today.
The research has discovered that recent reforms are forcing local councils to accept large developments against their will, citing the example of Feniton, in Devon, which is currently awaiting the result of a planning “super enquiry” held last month.
The village faces multiple plans to build 285 homes in a community of just 1,796 residents, an increase of 38% and the second highest growth in the country in a table compiled by the CPRE.
Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive, said: “This report provides firm evidence from across England that the Government’s planning reforms are not achieving their stated aims.
“Far from community control of local development, we are seeing councils under pressure to disregard local democracy to meet top-down targets.”
The report – Community Control or Countryside Chaos – analyses the effect of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) two years after it scaled back thousands of pages of policy to around 50, adding a presumption in favour of allowing schemes which are considered sustainable.
The new guidance also increased the importance of local authorities having a local plan in place setting out housing targets, something which around a 100 councils have so far failed to do.
The planning authority for Feniton case, East Devon District Council, is among those without an approved local plan.
This absence gives developers a stronger case in their battle to overturn local desires, expressed in the draft plan as a 5% rise in housing.
The council’s development management committee is next month to hear fresh plans for 470 homes in Gittisham, which if refused are expected to be subject to further appeal.
Susie Bond, independent councillor for Feniton, said it would be “perverse” for a planning inspector to allow a 38% rise when 5% was set to be enshrined in the local plan.
“This is where democracy has fallen out of the picture completely as without a local plan in place it is the land owners and developers deciding where houses should go,” she added.
“That’s not democracy by any stretch of the imagination and these are decisions that cannot be overturned – I can’t believe this is what the Government intended.”
The CPRE says there are plans for over 700,000 houses in the countryside, including 200,000 for the Green Belt.
Sites earmarked for housing are being left undeveloped while councils are under increasing pressure to allocate more and more land for future development, it claims.
This pressure, campaigners claim, has significantly slowed the rate at which local plans are being adopted, meaning councils are powerless to decide what land should be developed in the best interests of local communities.
Researchers analysed 58 planning appeal decisions covering proposals for ten or more houses between April 2013 and February 2014 and found 39 (67%) were granted.
The latest Government figures to March 2013 show an increase in the proportion of “major” appeals granted to 46%, from 31.7% in 2008/9.
Mr Spiers added: “Local authorities are having to agree fanciful housing numbers and allocate huge areas of greenfield land to meet targets.. Where they lack an up to date plan, the countryside is up for grabs and many villages feel under siege from developers.”