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Column 26th August 2020

Government plans a Charter for Developers

A couple of weeks ago we pointed out that the Government was consulting on a major change to the way planning works.

We’ve now read more of the 84 pages and are trying to work out what it might mean.

It says that "Local councils should radically and profoundly re-invent the ambition, depth and breadth with which they engage with communities as they consult on local plans."

In order to support greater public engagement in plan-making, the paper says: "Residents will be able to engage in a much more democratic system that is open to a wider range of people whose voice is currently not heard. People will be able to use their smartphone to give their views on local plans and design codes as they are developed, and to see clearer, more visual information about development proposals near them."

In addition, alongside local plans, the White Paper envisages a much more prominent role for design codes and guidance, which would be "prepared locally with community involvement" and be "more binding" on planning decisions.

This concentration on engagement in plan-making and making better use of digital technology will, the White Paper argues, make the planning system far more democratic and instil a greater degree of public trust.

Our experience of “engagement” and “involvement” is that the community can argue with the quantity, location and style of development but the Council and the developers ignore all comments and will continue to do whatever they like.

In the last 10 years nearly 6,500 homes have been given permission in OX12 yet only about 1,000 have been built.

The remaining 5,500 will be built at some point to the standards agreed when the permission was granted.

So developers will be building homes with gas central heating and lower insulation standards to design codes which were agreed in 2014 not 2021 or 2022.

We’ve all seen the way that the current Secretary of State for planning can be influenced by developers and this document appears to be yet another charter for developers.

The document states that there will be a “single statutory ‘sustainable development’ test”, but doesn’t define “sustainable”.

There has never been an adequate definition of sustainable in any planning law so far and we very much doubt that this will change.

Anyway it won’t apply to the 5,500 homes already with approval in OX12 and hundreds of thousands of other approvals around the country.


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