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Council confused by new Government planning rules

June 16, 2011 8:45 AM

Wiltshire Council planners are having difficulty understanding new planning rules announced by the government.

The most important change is the abolition of the Regional Spacial Strategy. This was a key part of the old government's centralisation of planning, whereby civil servants in London decided for example how many houses should be built in Wiltshire.

Now the decision will be made at a local level, taking into account the need of people in the county for new housing.

The main areas of change proposed by the coalition government are:

• Rapid abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies, returning decision on housing and planning to local councils.

• Publish and present to parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities.

• Deliver incentives for local authorities to deliver sustainable development including new homes and business.

• In the longer term, radical reform of the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which inhabitants live, based on the principles set out in the Conservative Party publication 'Open Source Planning'.

• Level playing field between small and large retailers, enabling councils to take into account competition issues when drawing up local plans to shape the direction and type of retail development.

• Presumption in favour of sustainable development in the planning system

A 'Decentralisation and Localism Bill' will provide the legislative basis for this and give councils more power over planning and housing.

Wiltshire Council planners are reluctant to take on the implications of the change, saying the council should do 'business as usual' until the government provides more clarity. However Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles has stated,

"I am writing to you today to highlight our commitment in the coalition agreements where we very clearly set out our intention to rapidly abolish Regional Strategies and return decision making powers on housing and planning to local councils. Consequently decisions on housing supply (including the provision of travellers sites) will rest with Local Planning Authorities without the framework of regional numbers and plans.

I will make a formal announcement on this matter soon. However, I expect Local Planning Authorities and the Planning Inspectorate to have regard to this letter as a material planning consideration in any decisions they are currently taking."

This clearly says the RSS is dead as of now, and planners, developers, and the planning inspectorate need to be aware of that.


All chief planning officers in the country were written to in June 2010 to confirm that the Government has amended Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (PPS3) with the following changes:

• private residential gardens are now excluded from the definition of previously developed land in Annex B

• the national indicative minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare is deleted from paragraph 47

The decision by the Labour government to put domestic gardens in the same category as former industrial areas was done to help them meet their own target for the quantity of housing built on 'brown-field' land, and with no thought for the consequences. Likewise the requirement for high-density estates followed a simplistic line of logic: "We need to build x houses. Higher density means less land take. Taking more land for housing is bad, ergo higher density is good." Again no thought was given to the quality of development or the adverse effects of inappropriate high-density developments on communities and people.

Much of the policy of the new government is based on The Conservative party publication 'Open Source Planning'. Despite its nerdy title this is a radical document which, if fully implemented, would restore the democratic element of the planning system which almost disappeared under the Labour regime.