The government is reportedly backpedalling on its commitment to overhaul planning laws in order to accelerate infrastructure projects with a target of building 300,000 homes a year in England.
Part of the government’s “Project Speed”, the new planning laws were announced in the Queen’s speech with the target of modernising and simplifying the system and increasing the number of homes being planned by more than a third.
The planning reforms have been met with criticism from countryside campaigners, who said the changes would lead to the “suburbanisation” of green areas without delivering much-needed affordable housing.
News that the plans could be scrapped follows the Conservatives’ shock defeat in the Chesham & Amersham byelection to the Liberal Democrats in June, which was blamed by some Tory MPs on the new laws. In the run-up to the vote, the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, said that if his party gained the Buckinghamshire constituency, which had formerly been a safe seat for the Conservatives, it would be “a massive mandate for those of us who were campaigning against the planning reforms”.
According to a report in the Times, the proposals will be abandoned in light of the backlash from southern voters and MPs. The new laws would have given councils mandatory housebuilding targets and stopped homeowners from being able to object to planning applications through a zonal system.
Tom Fyans, the deputy chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said that if the reports were correct “some of the most damaging proposals of what was a top-down developers’ charter have been rightly binned” and dubbed the move a “victory for common sense”.
He added: “The government must not shy away from overhauling a tired planning system to make it fit for the multiple challenges of the 21st century. Local communities need a stronger right to be heard in local decisions; brownfield sites must automatically be developed first to help protect local green spaces and our green belts in the fight against climate change, and young people and key workers desperately need more funding for rural affordable homes.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We will not comment on speculation. Our response to the consultation will be released in due course.”
Announcing the planning bill, the government had pledged it would create “simpler, faster procedures for producing local development plans, approving major schemes, assessing environmental impacts and negotiating affordable housing and infrastructure contributions”.
Ministers had aimed to use the loosening of planning regulations, which have been in place since 1947, to boost home ownership in areas of rising Conservative support in northern England and the Midlands, as well as using post-Brexit freedoms to “simplify … environmental assessments for developments”.
However, the Lancashire, Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester branch of the CPRE charity, which lobbies to protect the countryside, described the planned reforms as an “utter disaster”, with chair Debra McConnell saying: “We will see a lot more houses on greenfield land and in areas of outstanding natural beauty. The people in the north of England need these green spaces for their wellbeing.”
As well as criticism from countryside campaigners who say the changes would result in “rural spread”, the government has been condemned for failing to put forward legislation to improve regulation of social housing. Grenfell United, which represents the bereaved and survivors of the 2017 tower block disaster, said it was “deeply let down” at the failure to “redress the balance of power between social housing tenants and landlords” in the Queen’s speech, where the planning reforms were first mooted.
Over the past five years, social housebuilding has averaged below 6,500 new homes a year in England, according to Shelter, while there are 1.1 million people on waiting lists.