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The society is deeply concerned about recent government announcements on planning, deregulation and growth. Our case officer Nicola Hodgson gives an update on the alarming situation.
The government’s Growth Plan will damage the environment, public access, and local democracy. The new policies appear to conflict with the ambitions and targets of the Environment Act, and the 25-year environment plan, for the protection of the environment and mitigation of climate change. Green spaces, particularly vital since the outbreak of covid for physical and mental health, will be even more vulnerable to development. The plan incorporates the worst of the proposals in the 2020 planning white paper.
The plan aims to:
- streamline a host of assessments, duplication, and regulation;
- unpick the planning system to accelerate infrastructure projects and create new investment zones with deregulated planning rules;
- ‘relax’ key national and local policies;
- reduce consultation with statutory bodies.
A large number of infrastructure projects (138) will be accelerated, and the controversial National Strategic Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) process, that in effect deprive local communities and councils of a voice in respect of major developments, is to be streamlined. Onshore wind-farms and fracking could also be brought within NSIPs. There are 38 investment zones in the pipeline. Here there will be a fast track which will override current planning rules. If the existing Freeport areas are included this will cover vast swathes of the country, including our protected landscapes.
A new Planning and Infrastructure Act aims to minimise the burdens of environmental assessments. There is no news about whether the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill, currently in parliament, will survive. There is no indication of how any of these proposals will affect current local plans.
We argue that the planning system must focus on what really matters and what is needed to benefit people, the environment, and sustainable development. There is no reason why planning applications inside an investment zone should be treated differently to those outside them.
The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (summary here) will remove retained EU laws which protect the environment, including the habitat regulations. The government is also to consider changes to the judicial review system to avoid claims which, it says, cause unnecessary delays.
The society continues to work with other members of the Better Planning Coalition (here), to lobby government and ensure we have a planning system that is sustainable, viable, and protects the environment.