Government’s proposed planning reforms lack detail

Aug 14, 2020

You may have seen that the Government has recently published a white paper titled ‘Planning for the Future’, which sets out the council’s proposals for reforming the planning system, to meet increasing requirements for housing across the country. As you would expect, we have studied the document which we feel lacks key detail, masked by a number of headlines designed to paint the proposals in a positive light.

We were already frustrated by the delays to this white paper, which was due to be published back in the spring, considering the potential impact it could have on the plans for Capel Parish. But what was published still fails to clarify how several important areas will be addressed.

Firstly, it is not clear how any changes will affect local plans which are in progress. The document suggests there is potential for a delay to plans at the stage Tunbridge Wells’ plan has reached, but that leaves those people blighted by the proposals with yet more time spent worry about how they may be affected. 

There are also a number of contradictions within the document.  

The paper says that ‘…valued green spaces and Green Belt will continue to be protected for future generations, with the reforms allowing for more building on brownfield land’. But we know from bitter experience, that there are ways of developing on green belt land. And with a companion consultation on calculating housing needs, also published last week, showing an increase in the Government’s new homes target, will any focus on brownfield land be enough to reduce the pressure on the green belt?

Also of significant concern to the Save Capel team is the statement that the Government wants to ‘streamline the opportunity for consultation at the planning application stage, because this adds delay to the process and allows a small minority of voices, some from the local area and often some not, to shape outcomes.’ 

The Government has said that local community engagement will be at the centre of the proposals, but the detail in the document suggests that those people closest to a development, those most affected by new plans, could well lose their voice.

One part of the document which stood out was the proposal that the Government wants to revise the National Planning Policy Framework which sets out the Government’s economic, environmental and social planning policies for England. It intends to make it clear that masterplans and design codes for sites prepared for substantial development should seek to include a variety of development types from different builders allowing more phases to come forward together.

This is a direct contradiction to the situation we face in Capel. In one area of 400 acres, a single developer is proposing to masterplan and build around 2,800 homes and has already stated its plan to do so in a series of phases.

Over the coming weeks, the Save Capel team will be seeking clarification on the various areas where details are vague and will be talking to its many members and supporters ahead of preparing a submission to the Government’s consultation. 

In the meantime, we have once again urged Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to reconsider its plans for Capel Parish, ahead of the preparation of its pre-submission draft of the Local Plan, given the Government’s focus on urban regeneration and protection of our green belt.


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