Cheltenham Civic Society, in its response to the government’s consultation on its planning white paper ‘Planning for the Future’, has strongly criticised the proposed zonal system for planning.
The proposed new system proposes the biggest reform in planning in the last 70 years. If adopted it would introduce a three-zone system allocating all land and properties into “growth”, “renewal” or “protection” areas. Except in protected areas, this would remove much of the development control process with which people are familiar.
In its 35-page response submitted to the government this week, the Civic Society says that the proposals are “fundamentally mistaken for three overriding reasons”:
- The absence of supporting evidence for such a far-reaching set of proposals. Tearing down the present system which, for all its faults, is well established and well understood, cannot be justified by the thin arguments offered in the white paper. Nor are the alleged benefits convincing.
- The focus on housing almost to the exclusion of everything else. Of course there is a national housing crisis, but planning is about more than housing (and housing is about more than planning). The White Paper’s superficial treatment of sustainability and public health issues facing the nation – and which planning can help resolve – is deeply disappointing.
- The threat the white paper poses to local democracy. Its proposals would deny people the chance to comment on the details of schemes, reduce rather than increase citizens’ rights in the planning process, and weaken the hand of local authorities trying to deal with pressures from developers. Whatever the rhetoric in the white paper, people will be the losers.
Chair of Cheltenham Civic Society, Andrew Booton, said: ‘This white paper is driven by the housing crisis but we must recognise that planning is more than housing and crude zoning will never be able to account for the complexities of planning in towns like Cheltenham, or help to deliver the quality of housing and other developments that are needed.
‘We want to see more democracy in the planning process, but these proposals restrict public consultation to the initial local planning policy stages, which – being quite abstract processes – very few people tend to engage with. But many people engage in response to schemes put forward by developers and those opportunities will disappear if these proposals are adopted.’