The rush by the national government to see the Planning White Paper bill through Parliament in a short period of time without proper scrutiny is a “developers charter”, and one of a number of changes in planning policy which also seeks to remove or minimise opportunities for the community to get involved.

Our national body, Civic Voice, has engaged with the Department for Homes, Communities & Local Government, whilst they’ve welcomed some of the proposed changes, there are many more concerns hence they’ve campaigned for months to ensure the community continue to have a voice, whilst also expressing concern for conservation areas, conversion of shop front to residential, relaxation of business use classes in town centres, and speeding up the planning system for the wrong reasons without putting in place adequate resources and funding in local government. Civic Voice has highlighted to its members the following proposals, announcements and reviews from the past year:

• Planning White Paper (Aug ’20)
• Successive changes to Permitted Development rights, widening owner rights (office to residential conversions, Class E, upward extensions)
• Build Back Better
• Building Better Commission
• Design Codes
• Changes to National Planning Policy Framework
• New Planning Bill

Even the (Department of Homes Communities & Local Government Select Committee has taken a dim view of the planning white paper, with observations:

• individuals must be able to comment on all individual planning proposals
• Government should set out the evidence for housing numbers
• a review of green belt and its purpose is needed
• welcome the Government’s plan to expand the role of digital technology but retaining more traditional methods
• unpersuaded with a zoning approach
• The Government should only abolish the duty to cooperate when more effective mechanisms have been put in place to ensure cooperation
• the Government should publish an assessment of the impact of its proposed changes on historic buildings

In order to achieve cross-party scrutiny from both houses of parliament with opportunities for representative policies to come to the surface, there are hundreds of All Party Parliamentary Groups, and therefore I’ve asked our MP, Yvette Cooper to join the APPG for Civic Societies, and she has agreed, in fact, she is being nominated as one of the Vice Chairs when an AGM takes place soon.

Here in Pontefract Civic Society we support the need for a review of the planning system but not at the expense of community engagement or some protection for conservation areas, the ‘high street’, and green belt, in fact, to ensure that farming land between settlements remains to avoid concreting over all the surrounding land. Our places need to retain their own unique identity, and open spaces should be protected for all to enjoy, especially with heightened focus on climate change, walking, cycling, and home working.

With the Pontefract Masterplan in place, which we have been engaged with from before that process started, we have a suitable framework to see the town centre enhanced, with the right development in the right place, but that simply covers the town centre, and not the suburbs.

Paramount is that our towns and villages are for people to live and work, yet placemaking appears to be completely ignored in the rush to pass planning applications quickly before the public realise, to build houses though a system of “zones” where land is allocated as “protected”, for “renewal”, or  for “growth”, and much of the control appears to move away from local people, away from local authorities where additional resources are needed in planning and conservation teams in Wakefield Council. 

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