Government planning law proposals a ‘worry’ for local green belt

GOVERNMENT plans to introduce new planning laws have been slammed by local groups and a council, who are concerned that some of the proposals could pave the way for controversial local schemes including the west of Stevenage and the east of Luton Century Park development.

The plans are encompassed in a National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which would replace the Planning Policy Statements (PPS) and Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPG). These are currently used as guidelines when considering individual planning applications and appeals.

Among the proposals are allowing employment land to be redeveloped for other uses, and no longer any requirement for the “efficient” use of land in housing developments.

There are also glaring absences in the draft framework, including no mention of protection of rural land beyond green belt status.

North Herts District Council (NHDC) has sent a list of observations to the Government, criticising some of the proposals.

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One of its main concerns is that the new definition of sustainable development is “heavily skewed” towards economic considerations, with only “limited consideration to environmental factors”.

“The Government has published what is described as a ‘myth buster’ in response to some of the many criticisms. The responses in this document are superficial and give little confidence,” said NHDC strategic planning and enterprise manager, John Ironside.

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“As it stands, the NPFF comes over as ill-thought-out, with potentially significant adverse repercussions for land use planning in North Hertfordshire, and indeed across England.”

NHDC’s portfolio holder for planning, transport and enterprise Cllr Tom Brindley, who commented on the draft at this week’s Cabinet meeting, added: “We welcome the opportunity to simplify the planning process and we don’t consider the NPPF to be a ‘green light’ for developers.

“That said, it is important to get the new guidelines right, and above all, that means ensuring adequate protection of our green belt and countryside.

“The report presented to Cabinet is our draft response to the consultation on the NPPF and I hope that our final comments, which reflect the views of residents throughout the district, are taken into account by the Government before any decisions are made.”

Hitchin Forum, which is due to have a meeting next week to formally discuss the proposals, has also highlighted problems.

John Urwin, the forum’s planning group chairman, said: “The main problem is the NPFF affects councils that don’t have a local development framework in place. I think NHDC’s last plan was before the year 2000, so we are a bit vulnerable.

“If it’s not in place, the planning inspectorate has been told to get through applications. That’s quite frightening.

“Another problem, particularly with regard to Hertfordshire, is that it’s always going to be a successful county. If you continue to build more houses and employment, you’re depriving other counties who want more work. That’s a problem I can’t see the NPPF addressing. I think that’s a major failing.”

The Hertfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has condemned the proposals, believing that they would make it easier for developments to be pushed through in green belt and other currently protected areas in the county.

Kevin FitzGerald, Hertfordshire’s honorary director, said: “The NPFF as currently drafted includes as much threat to our countryside as the discredited Regional Plan.

“In particular, the major threats to the east of Luton and west and north of Stevenage, which we thought had been seen off, are potentially back on the agenda.”

The Government’s consultation, which can also be responded to personally, ends on October 17.

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