• George Osborne’s plans could ‘paralyse’ planning system

    2nd September 2012 | News | Claire
  • George Osborne’s plans to relax controls on the green belt threaten to “paralyse” the planning system, experts have warned.

    The Chancellor is preparing to make it easier for councils to relax protections over green belt land, encouraging business growth and boosting the economy.

    Under plans being considered by Mr Osborne, the councils will no longer be required to hold a public inquiry if green belt land loses its protected status.

    The change would allow companies to site warehouses and other business units near to major roads and transport networks.

    Planning policy was thought to be a settled issue after the Government backed down on plans to loosen planning rules earlier this year, following a campaign by the National Trust and The Daily Telegraph.

    Councils are currently working hard to draft new local development plans that are compliant with the new policy, called the National Planning Policy Framework, by next April.

    However lawyers said that Mr Osborne’s decision to revisit the rules on the green belt was forcing local authorities to put on hold their plans, and could even stifle growth by delaying planning decisions.

    Richard Harwood, a respected planning barrister at 39 Essex Street chambers, said councils needed “a debate about planning policy like a hole in the head”.

    He said: “The last thing the planning system needs at the moment is to reopen the debate about what the general criteria is towards where we put development.

    “If there is going to be a relaxation – or discussion of a relaxation – then unfortunately that will have a paralysing effect on the rest of the planning process.”

    Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, added: “What the planning system needs after years of upheaval is stability.

    “Developers need to operate with a clear framework, and local authorities need certainty if they are to negotiate effectively with developers.

    “Whether it is Gordon Brown or George Osborne, Chancellors of the Exchequer should avoid meddling with the planning system. The Treasury doesn’t understand planning and the interventions of Treasury Ministers always end in tears.

    “The Chancellor should stick to his job of trying to fix the British economy, and let the planning system do its job of ensuring that necessary development goes in the right place. “

    England’s green belt covers over 6,000 square miles of countryside around towns and cities to prevent urban sprawl.

    The first indications of the Government’s fresh approach to planning will be seen in coming days.

    Prime Minister David Cameron is set to announce new measures to stimulate the housing market on Thursday.

    Mr Osborne’s plans are likely to be bitterly fought in Cabinet, with Communities secretary Eric Pickles – who negotiated the peace deal over the NPPF – an opponent of any further changes.

    Yesterday Mr Pickles announced plans to allow small business owners to create more flats above shops without planning permission.

    Current legislation only allows for one flat to be created above a shop without the need for a planning application. From early next month, new permitted development rights will allow people to establish two flats without planning permission.

    Mr Pickles is understood to see the initiative as a further example of more properties can be built in towns and cities rather than in the countryside.

    The Liberal Democrats tried to steal a march on the Coalition’s announcement by publicising plans to be debated at its conference later this month that could see 300,000 new homes built a year.

    Simon Hughes MP, the party’s deputy leader, said: “A shortage of homes has made it impossible for many to get on the housing ladder and has seen rents, especially in big cities, rise to historic and unaffordable highs.

    “That’s why Liberal Democrats have outlined our most ambitious ever proposals for building the new homes Britain needs.

    “Building 300,000 new houses a year will ease demand, stimulate the economy and generate jobs. It’s a win-win.”

    A motion to be debated at its conference claims that the target can be reached by “using untapped sources of finance and giving more freedom to social landlords, local authorities and local communities’ proposals”.