A Government overhaul of planning laws designed to slash red tape and accelerate house-building was criticised today by town hall chiefs who fear it will lead to communities being sidelined.
Councils said they have major concerns about the shake-up, the biggest in 70 years, warning it would limit the power of local politicians to block developments.
Under the new rules, planning applications which meet pre-approved design codes in certain areas would get an automatic green light, eliminating an entire stage of local oversight.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it would “be faster, but also build better quality homes”.
Councillor Darren Rodwell, executive member for housing and planning at London Councils, which represents boroughs in the capital, said: “These changes are potentially disastrous for Londoners and could reduce the amount of affordable housing built in the capital.”
Conservative councillor James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said it was “vital” that new homes were built through a locally led planning system, otherwise there was a “risk [of] giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas”.
He added: “Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern. It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.”
Tory councillor Mark Crane, of the District Councils’ Network, said: “We cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and side-line public consultation.”
Tom Copley, the deputy mayor of London for housing, told BBC Radio London: “They are now proposing a top down reorganisation of the planning system which is going to actually take power away from local councils and local communities and hand them to the Secretary of State and hand them to developers.”
Georgia Gould, Labour leader of Camden council, tweeted: “This Government is ... attacking council’s ability to build council homes.”
This government is showing contempt for our communities and attacking council’s ability to build council homes. They’re trying to sneak through changes that allow developers to completely ignore communities. We must call this out & demand these plans are stopped https://t.co/2lUWUtBZVA
— Georgia Gould (@Georgia_Gould)
However, Tory Councillor Matthew Green, Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for business and planning, said if the new rules support high-quality housing for residents and key workers as well as affordable homes then they would welcome it.
Ministers argue the reform will “cut red tape but not standards”.
Mr Jenrick said it would protect green spaces while making it easier to build on previously developed brownfield land.
He told LBC: “At the moment, very few people engage in the system. The evidence that we’ve seen shows that less than 1% of people engage in the local plan-making process, those plans can take seven years to produce and are extremely complicated.
“Less than 4 per cent engage even when there’s a planning application near their house that might have an impact on their home. So the current system isn’t really working in terms of local engagement.”