Lib Dems float widescale planning reforms

Proposals to restrict secretary of state call-in powers for planning applications and curtail the remit of the Planning Inspectorate have been tabled for debate at the Liberal Democrats' spring conference next month.

Liberal Democrat leader and deptuty prime minister Nick Clegg
Liberal Democrat leader and deptuty prime minister Nick Clegg

The moves form part of wider planning reforms aimed at delivering 300,000 homes a year for England, a significant increase on the 117,110 housing starts in the year to September 2013 detailed in the government’s most recent statistical release.

A policy motion set to be debated at the York event on 8 March, calls for the relationship between communities, local government, the Planning Inspectorate, and the secretary of state for communities to be "redefined to end unnecessary intervention in local decisions against the wishes of local councils and communities where local plans are up to date and approved".

The proposals, drawn up by Mid Dorset & North Poole MP Annette Brooke, call for a consultation on the extent to which ministerial call-in powers can be limited, and for the role of the Planning Inspectorate to be focused on examining local plans and dealing with major-application appeals to judge whether they are in conformity with a local plan.

They also suggest the introduction of local appeals for minor planning applications and "reforming the balance of responsibilities" between the mayor of London and individual boroughs to ensure that the mayor’s role is "truly strategic".

Additionally, the motion proposes the creation of "natural" sub-regional groupings of councils tasked with working together on "bottom up" strategic planning issues, in structures modelled on city-regions.

Brooke, who co-chairs the party’s parliamentary committee on communities and local government, told Planning the package of measures was aimed at empowering local communities to come up with solutions to housing need.

"We want to make the planning system more locally accountable and not have so much central government interference," she said.

"I can see some instances when the secretary of state might want to intervene in local infrastructure projects.

"But if everything is in order with the local plan, why would the secretary of state want to intervene?"

Other elements of the motion include:

  • Greater resources for updating neighbourhood plans;

  • A "community right of appeal" if a planning authority passes an application that does not conform to an up-to-date and approved neighbourhood plan;

  • The introduction of new community development "windfalls";

  • Reform of the 1981 New Towns Act to make it easier for local partners to meet housing targets through the creation of larger settlements; and

  • A package of measures to introduce greater competition to the housebuilding industry.

Brooke said that if the proposals were approved they would not automatically form part of the party’s 2015 general election manifesto.

But she said she hoped they would "influence" the document.

Full details of the planning reform proposals can be found in the party's spring conference agenda.


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