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Updated: Government’s New Approach to Planning Receives Sceptical Response

Published on: 12 May, 2022
Updated on: 12 May, 2022

By Martin Giles

New government proposals for a fresh approach to planning have received a sceptical reception from local politicians.

See Guildford’s MP’s reaction below.

The new approach comes in the wake of a wave of objections from residents in the South East reflected in pressure from Conservative MPs who are likely to be concerned about the impact on their electoral support.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Michael Gove, who is also the MP for Surrey Heath, was interviewed yesterday by the BBC on their Radio 4 Today programme.

He said that the new proposals, to be included in a new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, would help the government reach its housing target of 300,00 new homes a year and would help overcome resistance in local communities which existed because: “Communities have been understandably resistant because new buildings haven’t been filled. They haven’t been built with the quality required.

SoS Michael Gove

“Communities have been resistant because the infrastructure that they need, the GP surgeries, the new primary schools, the roads haven’t come with those houses.

“Communities have been resentful because they make democratic choices when they draw up plans. And those democratic choices are sometimes overridden by distant inspectors.”

People have been resistant he said because the environment hasn’t been protected and enhanced in the way that it should be and: “…because, far too often, you’ve had numbers plonked down simply in order to reach an arbitrary target. You’ve had dormitories, not neighbourhoods.

Giving residents a vote on proposed developments he said would produce a more pro-development attitude: “If people are given more of a say, yes, people when it comes to housing development [they] should be partners.

He did not think the target of 300,000 homes would be met this year but said: “We’re going to do everything we can in order to ensure that more of the right homes are built in the right way in the right places. Because I don’t want us to be tied to a procrustean bed. I think it’s critically important that even as we seek to improve housing supply, we also seek to build communities that people love and are proud of.

“…ultimately, when you’re building a new dwelling, you’re not simply trying to hit a statistical target. I’m certainly not… You know arithmetic is important but so is beauty, so is belonging, so is democracy, and so is making sure that we’re building communities.”

Zoe Franklin

Responding to the interview, Zoe Franklin said: “This Conservative government has a history of big announcements then utterly failing to deliver. So it remains to be seen as to what, if any, impact today’s announcements could have on Guildford’s Local Plan. What is clear is that they are far from the fundamental overhaul the planning system so desperately needs.

“His comments about why communities are “resistant” to development illustrate how out of touch he is with the planning system he’s responsible for.

“We know local residents want the right homes, in the right place, with the right infrastructure, built to sustainable standards and sold at prices regular people can afford. These issues are why communities object to developments.

“The reason that infrastructure continues to remain undelivered is because the Conservative’s planning process prioritises big developers over local communities.

“Personally, I want to see Guildford thriving for decades to come and that means it will evolve and change which will, of course, require development to provide genuinely affordable homes for young people and families.

“But that will only happen with fundamental planning reform which is prepared to tackle the vested interests of the big developers; something the Conservatives are never going to do.”

Angela Richardson MP

Guildford’s MP, Angela Richardson said she agreed “absolutely” with Michael Gove: “Providing the homes we need in Guildford, the South East and the country as a whole is as important as the types of homes we build and the lifestyles that those homes promote and support.

“He talked about beauty, infrastructure, local democracy, engagement and neighbourhoods – often people feel that the planning process is distant and Michael Gove wants to bring residents closer to the process.

“Planning operates within a legislative framework decided by parliament. We do not yet know what changes may be necessary to the Guildford or Waverley local plans to make them compliant with any changes – or indeed that the government would impose new changes retrospectively on existing plans.

“There is always the option to review local plans within the plan period and I share concerns raised with me that this has not been done as was promised in May 2019.

“In Guildford, we must preserve our town’s heritage and ensure it does not become overshadowed by high-density development.

“In our villages and communities, delivering infrastructure alongside new housing is vital – I would like to see partner bodies working together to deliver this more responsively and seamlessly.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore the R4GV leader of Guildford Borough Council tried to remain hopeful: “I think they are fine words but we have heard them before, and we still wait for new policies and legislation to back them up.

“However I am an optimist and Michael Gove has proven he is not afraid to make big, transformative decisions in his previous roles, I just hope any new approach delivers the outcomes this borough demands.

“We want help delivering brownfield sites, we want physical and social infrastructure in place before homes are occupied, we want quality and sustainable design, and we want an ability to fundamentally alter previously adopted Local Plans with an ability to remove allocations from as yet undeveloped sites. I look forward to reading the detailed Bill.

Howard Smith

His optimism was not matched by Howard Smith, speaking on behalf of Guildford Labour: “Mr Gove admits his own housing target will not be met, and he doesn’t seem that bothered about that – which will be of great interest to all the people currently looking for a place to buy or rent (including the 2,000 on our council’s housing waiting list).

“He wants better quality homes, as we all do, and better infrastructure – but what has been holding the government back?

“We also don’t see much about ‘levelling up’ issuing from this measure, but we do see a degree of neighbourhood strife developing as neighbours veto each others’ plans.  Gove’s suggestion will simply promote haphazard development and we’ve had enough of that already.

“All in all, this does nothing to increase the chance of good quality social homes in Guildford or any homes that might be affordable for local people. It’s a disgrace quite honestly.”

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