Anti-overdevelopment group issues rallying cry over planning reforms

Havering group says planning reforms are dangerous

Members of the anti-overdevelopment group Preserve - including South Hornchurch councillor Graham Williamson - have spoken out about the government's intention to reform the planning system. - Credit: Paul Bennett

A pressure group has issued a stark warning over the government's intention to reform the planning system.

The key change will see areas designated as protection, renewal or growth zones, with the rules allowing planning permission to be granted more easily in areas which fall into the latter category.

Anti-overdevelopment steering group Preserve, headed by Jon Cruddas MP and Cllr Graham Williamson, says these reforms are bad news for Havering because it could become much harder to successfully oppose development.

Chair Mr Cruddas made it clear in March that these reforms were coming, with the government confirming the overhaul in its recent Queen's Speech.

The MP for Dagenham and Rainham gave his reaction to the Recorder in the immediate aftermath of that speech.

With the dust now settled, Preserve's other members have shared their thoughts on what this means for Havering. 

What are the current rules for development in Havering?

The number of houses which must be built in Havering each year is set out in Mayor Sadiq Khan's London Plan, the latest version of which was released in March.

Under this five-year plan, the borough's target increased from 1,170 to 1,285 units/year until 2028/2029 - a jump of 10 per cent.

Included in this plan is a requirement that all developments have an allocation of 35pc affordable housing, with those offering more than 75pc able to follow a fast-track route which speeds up the application process.

The mayor expressed concerns about these reforms when the government published its White Paper last October.

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“Let me be clear: this is an ill-conceived, rushed and damaging overhaul of the planning system which has been dictated from Whitehall and takes away democratic control and local scrutiny from our planning process," Sadiq Khan said. 

“Quite simply, taking power away from local communities is the last thing the capital, or our country, needs."

How are those rules set to be reformed?

Expected before Parliament in the autumn, the Planning Bill would see areas designated as protection, renewal or growth zones.

Though it has not yet been made clear which category Havering will fall into, automatic outline planning permission will be granted in growth zones. 

This means councils won't be able to turn down applications that comply with local rules.

There are also plans to scrap s106 agreements, which currently allow local authorities to place planning obligations - such as building schools or other community infrastructure - on developers.

Used to lessen the impact of developments on the local area, developers currently have to incorporate these obligations into their applications or risk rejection.

What has Preserve said?

Cllr Williamson (South Hornchurch, Independent Residents' Group) believes these reforms are designed to support government plans to increase house-building within 20 cities, including London. 

The co-chair of Preserve first raised this concern in March, when he claimed this overhaul would put Havering on "steroids" by increasing its target to 2,666 units/year.

At that time, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) confirmed the 20 most populated urban areas would be subject to increased local housing need to "enable the delivery of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s".

With the reforms now confirmed, the councillor's views remain the same.

"Not only would Havering lose its suburban character, residents, existing and new, would inevitably be in conflict over access to public services - eg doctors, dentists, etcetera, because the planning levies and funds will fall short to meet their need."

Councillor Ray Morgon (Hacton, Residents' Group) claims developers building in growth areas would have "carte blanche to do what they want". 

"This would undoubtedly have a negative impact on residents' quality of life and our environment. It should be resisted at all costs", he added.

Preserve advisory board chair - and business leader - Julia Herold said: "To ensure a democratic approach to planning remains in place, we must not allow blanket zoning approvals, the communities to which they will affect must be given an opportunity to provide an end-user opinion to ensure that new developments are well planned and affordable."

The MHCLG has been contacted for an updated comment. 

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