Thursday, 13 October 2011

Planning Change

The new Conservative-led government said it was going to scrap top-down planning and give power back to local communities. In truth, it is proposing to scrap one national planning framework and replace it with another.

The proposals have provoked huge controversy. The CBI, Chambers of Commerce and the Housebuilders’ Federation have weighed in behind the proposals, as they believe they would give priority to economic development over other considerations. The National Trust, the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, and some national newspapers have come out strongly against the proposals, as they believe they would result in a huge development shift to green-field sites.

Changes to planning law introduced by the last Labour government ensured that priority was given to redeveloping brown-field sites – that is those sites on which there had previously been development. The result was dramatic as, by 2009, 70% of new housing development was taking place on brown-field sites, compared to less than 30% a decade earlier.

Locally, this meant that some areas close to Eckington and Mosborough, like Bridle Stiles, became protected from new housing development. It also meant that new house-building was taking place in Darnall and Attercliffe, where local people – and shops and businesses – wanted to re-build sustainable communities.

From talking to people throughout my constituency over many years, I know that they’ve strongly supported that re-balancing of development. Older communities have got renewal and given support to sustaining community facilities, like schools, shops and local traders. Meanwhile, local countryside has been saved from development. I sense that local people are very concerned that the government’s current proposals appear to risk changing that balance.

Leave aside the thousands of words, a key test for me will be whether the new planning framework continues to protect areas like Bridle Stiles from development and encourages the renewal of areas like Attercliffe and Darnall. We shall see.