Local residents are not meant to be able to “resist” new developments under the Coalition’s controversial planning reforms, one of the authors of the new rules has said.
John Rhodes, who helped write the Draft National Planning Policy Framework, said the new rules would inevitably mean “more development, not less” despite ministers’ promises to give residents more powers.
The comments by Mr Rhodes, a leading planning consultant, will raise questions over ministers’ claims about the framework and their “localism” agenda.
The Department of Communities and Local Government has said that towns and villages would get the final say on developments because they would have the power to draw up their own planning rules.
On its website, the department claims that the framework “puts local people in the driving seat of decision-making in the planning system. Communities will have the power to decide the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected”.
But Mr Rhodes has admitted that the Government’s plans were not supposed to make it easier for residents to resist new building.
He said: “It’s not meant to be the opportunity for communities to resist development. It’s meant to be part of a strategy which encourages greater development.”
He added: “There’s going to be more development, not less.”
Mr Rhodes was one of four expert advisers who wrote the first draft of the controversial planning framework, including its “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
His planning consultancy, Quod, advises clients including Asda and several major housing developers.
Mr Rhodes’s remarks were made in a video recorded for planning experts last December.
Two weeks after filming it, he was appointed to the advisory group that wrote the first draft of the new planning rules.
In the video, he suggested property consultants and developers could gain from the “localism” agenda.
“It is a fundamental philosophy that the Government takes very seriously and anyone who doesn’t understand that risks losing out,” he said.
“If you empower communities to understand the opportunities to shape their own place and meet their own needs, they are more likely to embrace development and see it as a positive thing,” he said.
“A consultancy that understands that is a consultancy that’s going to succeed.”
The remarks are likely to heighten concerns that the Government’s proposals have been overly influenced by the building industry.
The Daily Telegraph yesterday disclosed that Greg Clark, the planning minister, is working closely with developers to lobby for the changes.
Downing Street yesterday backed Mr Clark’s actions as “proper”.
The planning framework is opposed by a number of groups, including the National Trust and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. This newspaper’s Hands Off Our Land campaign is also urging ministers to reconsider.
At the heart of the controversy is the Government’s decision to write into planning rules a new legal “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
Yesterday, the Government came under fire for refusing to offer a clear legal definition of “sustainable development”.
The all-party Commons environmental audit committee said ministers should enshrine a definition of the term in law.
Critics believe that “sustainable development” is ambiguous and could easily be interpreted to favour many new building projects.
But ministers told MPs that such a legal definition was not needed “for planning to play an effective role in helping to promote and secure sustainable development goals”.
Joan Walley, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North who chairs the committee, said: “If there is going to be a presumption in favour of so-called sustainable development, it has to be properly defined.
“Unfortunately, ministers seem to be fobbing us off with this response.
“Instead of offering vague and woolly assurances that the countryside is not at risk from these new rules, they should define what they mean by sustainable development in law and put people’s concerns to rest.
“Until we see an adequate definition of sustainable development the suspicion will remain that the Government is simply paying lip service to protecting the environment.”
Property experts added that a clearer definition should be given in writing.
David Symons, a director at the global environmental consultancy WSP Environment & Energy, said: “Sustainable development can mean many different things, which is why a clear definition is so necessary in the Government’s planning reforms.
“Without a clear definition, different planning authorities will interpret sustainable development differently. Some will focus just on what is proposed, others will focus on the design while still others might focus on the impact of the building process itself.
“Planners and developers alike will be uncertain about what is required.”
The department last night insisted that it was “not true” to say residents would be unable to resist developments under the new rules.
A spokesman for the department added: “The draft framework puts local people in the driving seat by giving communities the power to decide the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected, through their Local Plan, which will be sovereign and drive planning decision making.
“Communities must be places where people are proud to live and raise a family, which is why the draft framework states all proposals will need to be sustainable and satisfy the strong environmental safeguards that remain part of the planning system, including protecting them from unacceptable development.”
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