Gareth Thomas MP has voted in the House of Commons to block a Government plan to hand control over planning decisions to developers and gag communities from speaking out against inappropriate developments in their area.
In an Opposition Day Debate on Monday, the Official Opposition called a vote to protect local people’s right to object to individual planning applications, after the Government announced plans to rip up the planning system in the Queen’s Speech. Only two Conservative MPs voted with Labour to support the motion. Thomas was the only Harrow MP to support it.
The Government’s proposed reforms of the planning system will remove powers from elected local representatives and hand them to Whitehall-appointed boards of developers while doing nothing to solve the growing affordable housing crisis.
Boards will oversee a new zonal system that allows developers to build at will in areas designated for growth.
Communities will be consulted only in the development of five-yearly local plans and will be stopped from intervening in individual planning applications.
Conservative Ministers have claimed that the reforms are needed to speed up housebuilding, even though over one million planning permissions have not been built out in the last decade.
Conservative MPs have repeatedly signalled their opposition to the reforms, expressing fears about the party’s cosy relationship with developers.
The Conservative Party received £11 million in donations from developers in Boris Johnson’s first year as Prime Minister and £891,000 from developers in the first three months of 2021 alone.
The Member of Parliament for Harrow West, Gareth Thomas said:
“By refusing to vote with Labour, the Conservatives have shown Harrow and other
communities whose side they’re on: wealthy developers that increasingly bankroll their party.
“Under the Developers’ Charter, Mr Johnson’s wealthy developer chums will be set loose to bulldoze and concrete over local neighbourhoods at will. Local residents will be gagged from objecting even if an oversized development threatens to blight their own street.
“Labour believes that good development can only happen when developers and communities work together, but the Developers Charter hands control to developers in what looks like payback for their massive increase in donations to the Conservative Party.”
Notes to Editors:
There were 1,882 planning decisions in Harrow in 2020 (spreadsheet attached)
The Conservatives have received more than £11m from developers under Boris Johnson
The Conservative Government’s intention to change planning rules to benefit
developers were set out in ‘Planning for the Future’ in 2020, and were immediately branded a ‘Developers’ Charter’ by housing campaigners. The plans are due to return to Parliament after this year’s local elections.
The current planning system is locally-led, with councils and the communities they represent given a say over the way their neighbourhoods develop, and all residents given the chance to object to development that is overbearing, impacts on their quality of life, or that is not accompanied by funding for necessary infrastructure (eg schools, roads, health services).
The ‘Developers’ Charter’ proposals would take away the right of local people to comment or object to development in their area, instead allowing the Secretary of State to grant developers planning “permission in principle” without any local consultation on the application. These changes to the planning system would help developers avoid contributions for affordable housing, local infrastructure, and avoid existing standards on good quality design, allowing them to rack up hundreds of millions of pounds extra profit without building any more homes. The Government is already relaxing ‘permitted development’ rules to allow developers to ignore space and amenity standards and turn high street shops and offices into homes, none of which have to be affordable, with campaigners warning that this is already creating a new wave of slum housing.
The proposals to remove local voices from the planning process have attracted widespread criticism – except from developers. President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alan Jones, branded the white paper’s proposals as “shameful”, the Campaign to Protect Rural England voiced concerns about community involvement, and the housing charity Shelter expressed concern at the reforms’ potential impact on social housing.
Gareth Thomas recent intervention in House of Commons: https://twitter.com/GarethThomasMP/status/1392508395463364615?s=20
Local Government Chronicle on Planning Reforms: https://www.lgcplus.com/services/regeneration-and-planning/queens-speech-planning-reforms-denounced-as-complete-disaster-11-05-2021/