Planning reforms sparking mixed reaction

Two interest groups have recently announced their feelings on the Government’s review of the Planning Policy Framework (currently up for consultation ending 17th October 2011) through letters to national papers. They seem to be reflective of the wider feeling towards the proposals, one economic group passionately supporting the benefits to commerce and one environmental group vehemently opposing the potentially negative effects on playing fields and green spaces. It is an issue that, as Kate Henderson (Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association) recently put it, is fast becoming a very “polarised debate about the future of planning and what that should be”.

The 19th of September saw a group of leading businessmen; including Simon Wolfson, CEO of Next, Sir Stuart Rose, former Marks & Spencer’s Chairman, and Ron Dennis, Executive Chairman of McLaren, submit a letter to The Times throwing their weight behind the planning reform. They argued that the changes were essential for providing jobs and growth:

“If we wish this country to remain internationally competitive, if we want the jobs and prosperity that growth brings, we must tackle head-on the sluggish pace and disproportionate costs of planning.” they wrote.

Including also the heads of GlaxoSmithKline, LK Bennett, Ocado and the Westfield shopping centre chain in the 22 strong signatory list, the letter has been said to have ‘sharpened the battle lines’ over one of the coalitions more controversial proposals for generating growth in our struggling economy.

Nick Clegg commented:

“If people want to get on with a development, it takes them years and years and years to get permission. We haven’t got years. We have to get moving as a country.”

There is significant opposition to the plans, however, particularly from rural organisations such as the National Trust and other opposition groups. The most recent outcries have focused on the thousands of playing fields and sports facilities that they say could be at risk if the changes go through.

Major sporting bodies including the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, Sport England, the Lawn Tennis Association and the Rugby Football Union reputedly fear that new planning rules will remove crucial protection for playing fields and open spaces. They gave their backing to a letter sent from the Sports and Recreation Alliance (SRA) to The Daily Telegraph on September 17th which claims that the “community benefits of sport and recreation” are ignored by the new draft planning policy.

The letter warns that open spaces and sport and recreation facilities will become more open to development and that builders will be less likely to provide sport facilities under planning obligations.

Tim Lamb, the SRA Chief Executive, said that the changes could threaten up to 70% of sports clubs:

“Only one in five clubs own their facilities, while two in three hire. This means that the majority of clubs are reliant upon sports facilities in public spaces.”

In particular, these complaints are referring to a change from the current guidelines which dictate that open spaces, sports and recreational buildings and land can only be built on if proved to be “surplus to requirements” and then only if facilities that are “at least equivalent in terms of size, usefulness, attractiveness and quality” are created in their stead. The new draft of the Planning Policy Framework removes this last requirement if “the needs and benefits of development clearly outweigh the loss” and campaign groups seek to have it reinstated.

Regardless of opposition, the Government seems determinedly steadfast on this issue. Speaking at the Festival of Business in Manchester, George Osborne argued that planning delays cost the economy £3 billion last year. He said that the proposals give communities more power to determine building in their areas, not less.

“Don’t underestimate our determination to win this argument. This is part of our plan for growth.”

This article is linked directly with this month’s Editor’s comment. A qualified and experienced Chartered Surveyor and writer with 28 years experience in the industry.

To read the Editor’s article from this month, click here.


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