Press release: Local communities could be left powerless as developers eye greenfield and Green Belt sites, says new LGiU and National Trust report

LGiU research, published today in partnership with the National Trust, reveals that the government is sleepwalking towards the centralisation of the planning system.

The LGiU surveyed senior local government politicians and officials in 94 Local Planning Authorities.  60 per cent of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has had a positive impact on their ability to deliver a Local Plan that reflects local needs and priorities.

Similarly, two-thirds of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that Neighbourhood Planning will have a positive impact on their authority’s ability to deliver development that reflects local concerns and priorities.

Respondents expressed concern that the Planning Inspectorate, through the examination process, is prioritising development over the views of local people.  The research found that housing land availability was the most common reason for Local Plans being rejected. In contrast, the research found that communities are most concerned about protection of the natural environment.

LGiU research highlights three key explanations for this centralisation:

  1. Local Plans. 53 per cent of LPAs will miss the March deadline for the production of Local Plans that set out the development policies for their area. Not providing councils with more time to adopt Local Plans will put communities at greater risk of speculative development. The government has argued that “seven out of ten local councils have now published Local Plans compared to two out of ten previously, and there is good progress across the remainder”. New research conducted by the LGiU, however, casts doubt on this analysis. The LGiU estimates that over a quarter (26 per cent) of local authorities will take more than a year to adopt their Local Plan

  1. Land-banking. The LGiU research found that many of the 400,000 sites nationally that have planning permission are likely to be excluded from a council’s deliverable five-year housing supply on the basis that they are currently considered economically unviable for development. Many are brownfield sites that are less profitable to develop than greenfield sites. In the longer term, economic growth will make brownfield development more viable for developers who have outstanding planning permission. As a case study in this report shows, many of the sites for 10,300 new homes approved for development in Salford are excluded from the council’s five year supply forcing the council to consider planning applications for greenfield sites.

  1. Resources in planning departments. 60 per cent of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that future levels of human and financial resource and capacity in planning departments will be adequate to meet future workload

 

The LGiU research has found two practical issues that could be mitigated to help both give people more say over planning decisions and achieve sustainable economic growth.

  1. Greater recognition of the issues around land-banking.  The LGiU research found that many of the 400,000 sites nationally that have planning permission are likely to be excluded from a council’s deliverable five-year housing supply on the basis that they are currently considered economically unviable for development. Councils are being forced to propose development of more profitable, and therefore more viable, greenfield sites. The government and Planning Inspectorate should consider taking a longer view on regeneration priorities alongside the economic viability of sites allocated for development

  1. Additional time to adopt Local Plans.  Local authorities are under resource pressures that mean it is increasingly difficult for them to produce Local Plans in the very short timetable that the government has set.  In the current economic climate, there is little possibility of extra financial resources, but additional time to adopt Local Plans would help ease the pressure on planning departments

Dr Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGiU, commented on the findings:

“Our research highlights that there is real concern within local government about the NPPF’s ability to create opportunities to involve local communities in setting the planning agenda in their local area.  This falls short of the government’s own localist ambitions.

“Local planning is at the heart of local democracy.  Of course, we need development, but not at any cost.  Local area plans provide a way of working through these tensions but it is not easy.

“It’s vital that we don’t put bureaucratic process ahead of the need for a real democratically founded local planning system.  Local area plans that balance the need for growth with the views of the communities are worth waiting for.”

Peter Nixon, Director, Conservation, National Trust:

“With more than half of England without plans in place, local authorities need more time to help them avoid speculative development. It is essential that the voice of local people is reflected in the planning system giving people confidence that they can have a genuine say.

“We are also deeply concerned by evidence in the report to show that Brownfield sites are being dismissed in favour of developments on green fields and open countryside.

“This is bad for our cities, bad for our towns, bad for our villages and bad for our countryside.”

 

ENDS

 

Notes for Editors 

For more information and press enquiries, please contact Lizzie Greenhalgh at lizzie.greenhalgh@lgiu.org.uk or on 0207 554 2800/ 07771 374602 or Laurie Thraves at laurie.thraves@lgiu.org.uk or on 0207 554 2800/ 07818 595175.

 

About LGiU

The LGiU is an award winning think tank and membership organisation. Our mission is to strengthen local democracy to put citizens in control of their own lives, communities and local services. Our team of policy experts and other staff provides practical policy advice, learning and development programmes, events and conferences, consultancy and other resources to our members and other organisations.

The National Trust

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

 

Method statement

The LGiU conducted quantitative and qualitative research into the the impact of the NPPF and Localism Act, the number of Local Plans that had been put in place and best-practice examples of the community involvement improving the quality and effectiveness of the planning process.  In the quantitative phase, the LGiU surveyed surveyed 108 lead members and senior officers in 94 LPAs. This represents 28 per cent of the 336 LPAs producing Local Plans.  The political breakdown of responses was as follows:

 

Conservative-led councils: 60%

Labour-led councils: 29%

Liberal Democrat-led councils: 9%

Independent-led council: 1%

Non-political council: 1%

 

This reflects the political control local authorities in England of Conservative 62.5%, Labour 33.5% and Liberal Democrat 4.0% (this calculation assumes that no-overall control councils are distributed evenly between the three main political parties).  The survey was conducted between Wednesday 20 February and 20 March 2013.  In the qualitative phase, follow-up interviews were conducted with three case study authorities to explore the issues in more depth.