Monthly column: Government’s controversial Planning Bill will remove local powers

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Bricks - Building

The Government’s new controversial Planning Bill represents the biggest reform of the planning system in England since the introduction of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

As part of my role in the HCLG Select Committee scrutinising the Bill, I’ve heard hours of testimony from stakeholders who are very worried that the Government’s proposed reforms will remove powers from elected local representatives and hand them to Whitehall-appointed boards of developers while doing nothing to solve the growing affordable housing crisis our country faces.

The Government claims that the Planning Bill is being introduced to ‘create a simpler, faster and more modern planning’ system, with three new zonal systems to replace the current system of applying for planning permission.

In reality, these changes will lead to local people and Councillors no longer having the ability to formally object to inappropriate developments in their own street or neighbourhood with participation limited to consultation on the area’s local plan every few years.

On Monday, I voted in the House of Commons to block the hated Developers’ Charter, to stop the hand-over of planning decisions to Tory-supporting developers and gag communities from speaking out against inappropriate developments in their area.

Mohammad Yasin MP
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston
Pic credit: Chris McAndrew

They will have no right to object to tower blocks at the end of the road, to the concreting over of precious green space or to oversized developments that will overburden local infrastructure such roads, GP surgeries or public transport.

Regeneration works for everyone only if it is a real and strong partnership between councils, communities and developers.

The best developers know that, too: they do not want to develop in the teeth of local opposition; they want to work with the local community and build something that enhances the local area.

Good regeneration is about not just bricks and mortar but people.

The Department for Transport and East West Rail proposals and subsequent consultations have shown how unsettling it is for communities when they don’t feel their objections are being heard to planning issues that affect them.

I have been honest about supporting the restoration of rail infrastructure in our town that I truly believe will bring much-needed investment, connectivity, and job prospects for the people of Bedford and Kempston.

The project until very recently has had cross-party support. But I was shocked that new six-track proposals were shoe-horned into the last consultation with no prior warning, meaning homes are now under threat in my constituency.

There was no whisper of this in previous consultations which is why I am opposed to the plans in their current form. The same cannot be said for the 2019 consultation, where the routes were quite clear and I am surprised to see local representatives, who welcomed the preferred route E option at the time, now appearing to oppose the plans their Government fully supports.

Planning will always be a difficult issue because every infrastructure or housebuilding plan will have pros and cons; will please some and not others.

A person desperate to finally get on the housing ladder for instance obviously has different interests to a homeowner who has enjoyed the beauty and tranquillity of walking their dog in their local greenspace.

Both stances are right and important – that’s the problem, and we must be able to have these conversations locally in a constructive, less belligerent way.

The important thing is to make sure those pros and cons are clearly stated, that local people have an informed say, that they will be properly listened to and engaged with and for those who are affected if the Government proceeds with plans, to be properly and fairly compensated.

I don’t know if re-running the non-statutory 2019 consultation is a realistic possibility, given the cross-party support of the chosen route, from four of the five local authorities across the Oxford to Cambridge line, but I have raised the possibility with EWR because I believe public buy-in is vital and that due process should be followed, but so far EWR and the DFT have insisted due process was followed and they won’t be re-opening.

There is of course no harm in asking and I raised the possibility in my response to the consultation, but my focus must be on fighting for my constituent’s homes in the Poets’ area which is under threat from the current consultation proposals because I believe there is a very strong and realistic case to save them and enjoy the benefits EWR otherwise offers our growing town.

This is a monthly guest column provided by
Mohammad Yasin MP and published unedited.

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