Government’s lost chance to achieve levelling up

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We have lamented the government’s failure to equalise the provision of green spaces for all.  Responding to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the society sets out its priorities for government in a five-point plan.

Kingsmead Field, Kent

Kingsmead Field, Kent. Photo: Open Spaces Society

The society wants to see:

1       an improvement in the process to designate land as local green space, encouragement to register land as town and village greens(4), and strengthened protection for local open spaces to secure them from development;

2       development of pro-active measures to equalise open-space provision for all;

3       a more accessible neighbourhood-planning regime;

4       certainty that the use of permitted development rights, and permission in principle, will not result in more development affecting public rights of way;

5       protection for the environment, important open spaces, and public rights of way when onshore wind-power schemes are proposed on sites that have not been designated in the local plan.

The Open Spaces Society is a member of the Better Planning Coalition (BPC) and lobbies for a fair and transparent system that works for access and people, and addresses mitigation of climate change

Say Nicola Hodgson, case officer for the society: ‘The health of our environment and access to it have never been more crucial.  The BPC is asking that a levelling-up mission to reduce environmental inequality be added to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to ensure there is a strong government focus on people’s health and well-being, by tackling unequal provision of open space, and promoting nature recovery and climate mitigation.

‘The government’s 25-year environment plan, published in January 2018, pledged to make sure that our natural environment “can be enjoyed, used by and cared for by everyone”.  Access to and protection of our natural environment need to be addressed within the planning system to ensure equality for all.’

Nicola continues: ‘This consultation on the NPPF is a significant missed opportunity to tackle the urgent nature and climate crises.  It does not propose any direct changes to support the creation and long-term protection of open spaces close to people’s homes—yet these were proved to be vital during lockdown.  Nor does it enable the planning system to work for nature and people.  Instead, it proposes to give greater powers to ministers to take planning decisions at the expense of local democracy.

‘It is deeply disappointing that a full review of the NPPF is not being undertaken now, but has been postponed until next year.  Users of the planning system require certainty not constant change.  Councils are now delaying the preparation of local plans because of this uncertainty.

‘Given the increasing number of government proposals in relation to planning, including in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, and the intention of implementing the changes to the NPPF this spring, the society is concerned that the responses to this consultation will not be adequately evaluated and this whole exercise is mere window-dressing.’

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