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Ward councillors fear planning system weighted in favour of developers

Many ward councillors believe that the planning system in England works in the interest of developers over councils and local communities, research has suggested.

A survey of more than 1,200 ward councillors, carried out by the Local Government Information Unit, and commissioned by the National Trust, found that:

  • Over half of councillors say that sites that are not in line with the council’s plan are being approved for housing in their area.
  • There were also concerns about Green Belt release and the loosening of the planning system through the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office to residential use conversion, barn conversions and other changes of use.
  • There were concerns about the under-resourcing of planning teams.

The LGIU said there were fears that the Housing White Paper, expected later this month, could make matters worse, “if it sets rigid housing numbers for local plans which don’t take account of local factors such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

The National Trust and the LGiU called on ministers to take steps to improve the confidence that councillors have in the way the planning system works, including:

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  • More resources for local planning authorities to help get local plans in place;
  • Stronger Government backing for councils setting design standards;
  • A smart approach to meeting housing need “which allows councils to recognise local constraints and focuses development in the most appropriate places”.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGiU, said: “The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing communities to help shape the physical structure of the places they live. Councillors are the most important link between communities and that system. Our survey with the National Trust shows that many councillors feel that this democratic tool is at risk of being undermined.”

Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the National Trust, said: “It’s now almost five years after the Government’s planning framework was adopted, so it’s worrying that councillors feel it hasn’t delivered the localism that was promised. If ministers are serious about Local Plans being at the heart of the planning system, then they should invest in council planning teams and use the Housing White Paper to give them the tools to deliver good quality housing in the right places.”

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