If you follow this blog, you could be forgiven for thinking that Leicester Friends of the Earth has been taking a break during lockdown. In fact, we’ve been busier than ever but it just hasn’t been very newsworthy.
Leicester City Council published their draft local plan in March and we have spent the last few months reading it carefully, discussing each chapter in Zoom meetings, learning more about the planning system, looking at local plans prepared by other local authorities and deciding what an ideal local plan for Leicester would look like. We’re working with Climate Action Leicester and Leicestershire on this project. The consultation has been delayed but we’re now expecting it to re-open in September and we’ll let you know more about our response then.
All local authorities which make decisions about planning have to develop a local plan. This document is then used to decide whether planning applications are approved or rejected. It sets out the council’s expectations and requirements and covers everything from where development should take place and the density of housing to energy efficiency standards, the amount of parking provided for office blocks and the amount of green space needed for a given size of population. The local plan decides what our city will look like in the future. When we are facing a climate emergency, it is incredibly important that local plans take this into account and set high standards for making our towns and cities sustainable, healthy places to live.
The process for local authorities to create a local plan is long. It starts with detailed analysis of the area and what is needed (e.g., the type of housing, the level of flood risk, the requirement for employment land) and then works through several rounds of consultation. People who live in or near to the area can review the council’s drafts and have a say. Friends of the Earth groups and other campaigning organisations put an enormous amount of time into responding to local plan consultations and often manage to persuade their council to strengthen the environmental credentials of the final version. This is as it should be; democracy doesn’t begin and end at election time.
But now the government wants to change all of that. On 6th August, they published their ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper setting out proposed reforms to the planning system. And it is clear that they envision a future in which we have no say about our local area at all. The Guardian, the Town and Country Planning Association, Rights Community Action and even the Financial Times have all published articles explaining what is wrong with the government’s proposals. (And I urge you to read these articles if you haven’t already – everyone who cares about the future needs to understand what is happening.) To summarise: the government wants to move to a zonal planning system, where our local plan would be reduced to a colour-coded map and all of the detail prepared by those who know the area and have a stake in its future would simply be removed. Planning applications would not even be needed apart from in exceptional circumstances, so we wouldn’t be able to object to individual developments. We might be able to have a say about the design code, but the government is also preparing a national version so our control over our local area would be minimal.
We cannot accept this. Our planning system needs reform but we want more democracy, not less. Those who live in an area should have a say about its future. There is a campaign gathering steam to object to the government’s proposals. Some of the people involved have written their own proposals for what needs to change and called it The People’s Charter for Democracy in Planning. The articles of this Charter are as follows:
- The right to participate.
- Local decisions should be made locally by democratically accountable bodies
- A meaningful legal duty to secure sustainable development, tackling climate change, and the health and well-being of all citizens.
We think this offers a much better vision of the future of planning. We will let you know how you can get involved in supporting this Charter.
In the meantime, if you want to object to the government’s proposals, national Friends of the Earth has written a model response to the consultation that you can use and adapt. Please get involved and do whatever you can to prevent this attack on our rights.