A TOP politician has warned of ‘sweeping’ changes to public engagement in future planning laws and non-negotiable housing targets driven by “top-down” policies out of the council’s control.

Buckinghamshire Council leader Martin Tett took aim at the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) when justifying the authority’s response to the government’s “Planning for the Future” White Paper.

He said it was the ‘PINS’ that needed reform rather than the government’s intention to “streamline and modernise the planning process”.

Cllr Tett added some changes outlined in the document ‘completely wipe away’ decades of the planning regime – and although the authority agrees the current system requires “improvement”, the government’s strategy is “at the expense of local democratic accountability”.

READ MORE: Housing targets and less public say among council fears in Gov planning reforms

Cllr Tett also said Buckinghamshire’s green spaces could be under threat by “enormously high” housing targets which the council will be powerless to resist.

In its draft response the council highlights six “headline issues”:

  • Reduced local democratic accountability
  • Reduced engagement in local plans
  • Inflated housing targets
  • Properly funded affordable housing
  • Developers funding full cost of projects
  • Greater planning enforcement penalties

It talks about local policy issues being “side-lined” in favour of ‘overcentralise… decision making to the detriment of local involvement… and future generations’.

It fears a condensed Local Plan process ‘inaccessible to many’ resulting in the public discovering what has been permitted when it “will be too late”.

It brands set housing targets a “great concern”, adding government aims for 300,000 homes each year “is not supported by its own analysis so it should not constrain itself to such falsehood”.

It also argues simply building more homes “will not deliver affordability”, adding loans to fund such scheme will see taxpayers “effectively subsidising” developers.

It welcomes however the digitisation of the planning process, greater penalties for those that breach planning laws, and an emphasis on ‘high quality design and the value of neighbourhood plans’.

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“Planning for the Future is the biggest single change in the planning structure and regime within this country, since it was introduced in 1947,” said Cllr Tett.

“We are now seeing some proposals that reflexively completely wipe that away and replace it with a very different approach by the government.

“One of the issues I’ve found most frustrating… is actually the Planning Inspectorate…who are incredibly slow to engage, incredibly variable based on the individuals… and this whole process in their hands just seems to get bogged down in treacle.

“I think the concern government had may be legitimate but in some ways is misplaced, and actually it would be better reforming the PINS… rather than trying to sweep away a lot of protections of local communities and the way they engage democratically.”

Speaking to housing targets, Cllr Tett said: “Unlike the current system, whereby there is some allowance locally for the constraints of an area – be it Green Belt, AONB – under this, the number given to us by government will be non-negotiable.

“We could be faced with an enormously high target which we have to allocate land for, completely outside our control and the planning constraints under which we have to operate.”

The deadline for the government white paper consultation is October 29.

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