UK Politics

Planning law policy 'fuels inappropriate development'

Crane on construction site Image copyright Reuters

The government's flagship planning policy has seen "inappropriate and unwanted" housing development spring up across England, MPs have said.

Rules allowing shops and offices to be converted without planning permission should be scrapped, the Communities and Local Government Committee urged.

It said the National Planning Policy Framework left High Streets unprotected against out-of-town store developments.

Ministers said the two-year-old reforms were "locally-led" and working.

The framework came into existence in April 2012 and saw planning law changed with the aim of speeding up decisions and boosting housebuilding. The "presumption in favour of sustainable development" has, however, seen conservationists criticise it as a "developers' charter".

The report from the cross-party committee said its aim of encouraging sustainable development was to be welcomed.

But MPs said ministers should ensure the framework "does the job it was intended to do".

They said changes to the NPPF were required to ensure "the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension" with "due emphasis on the natural environment".

Its research had found 41% of council planning authorities had not adopted a local plan for development.

The committee said: "Councils that fail to produce a plan surrender their ability to influence the future development of their local areas."

Committee chairman Clive Betts added: "Councils must do more to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by moving quickly to get an adopted local plan in place."

Image copyright Reuters

The committee highlighted a loophole that allowed developers to challenge the suitability of sites suggested by councils.

"We heard that developers were claiming sites were unviable in order to obtain planning permission on other, more lucrative sites against the wishes of the council and community," said Mr Betts.

'Not working'

The committee said the government should scale back "permitted development" which allows small shops and banks to become homes without planning permission.

"It is too random and is hollowing out the commercial heart of our town centres. Councils have to be able to plan strategically for the future," Mr Betts said.

The Local Government Association said this particular policy had seen pressure on schools, roads and health services.

"The committee is right to recognise that permitted development rights are not working and we urge government to listen to the committee's call to end them," a spokesman said.

"It is absolutely vital that planning decisions are made in line with the wishes of local communities."

The National Trust said the MPs' report was another indication the NPPF had allowed "streetwise developers" to ignore the wishes of communities.

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis urged "slow-coach" authorities to adopt local plans as the "simple way... to send speculative developers packing".

He said the NPPF had seen planning permission for 240,000 homes in the past year and "ensured strong protections of the open countryside... while at the same time putting power back in the hands of local people through the abolition of top-down regional strategies".

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