Government’s planning reforms threaten West Midlands countryside

The Government’s proposals to upend the English planning system with huge changes could cause havoc in the West Midlands.

The reforms would see all land in England classified into one of three categories – growth, renewal or protection.

  • Growth areas would allow development to take place automatically for types of development specified in a plan. They could easily become a developer’s charter, leading to more urban sprawl involving speculative development outside cities and towns. Up to now, planning in the West Midlands has done well to resist this type of development, keeping our free-standing towns compact and self-sustaining;
  • Renewal areas – mainly previously developed sites in cities and large towns such as Birmingham, the Black Country, Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent. CPRE strongly supports this approach which has seen growing success in recent years. However, efforts need to be redoubled and the Government’s half-hearted proposals will do little to achieve that;
  • Areas for Protection – for example Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and Green Belt – would see development restricted. There are two problems with this approach. First, the Government has conspicuously failed to protect substantial parts of the West Midlands Green Belt. A rash of housing development is taking place on former Green Belt land on the edges of Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull, and the Black Country is coming under similar pressure. The loss of Green Belt is justified by over-inflated assessments of housing need. Second, large parts of the rural West Midlands do not enjoy special status yet deserve protection from most development. Large swathes of rural Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire fall into this category – they are neither Green Belt nor AONB. The Government White Paper leaves open whether the countryside is in principle to be ‘an Area for Protection’. It does not mention agriculture or the protection of farmland from development.

Mark Sullivan, Chairman of the CPRE’s West Midlands Regional Group, said:

“The Government claims that its proposals would put local people at the heart of planning. This is a myth. Unless they are able to be involved when a plan was first drawn up (a difficult task), there would be no further opportunity to influence planning decisions. People would be understandably angry at the withdrawal of this major right.

“‘Planning for the Future’ nowhere mentions strategic planning, and only refers to regional planning to state that it has been abolished. There would be no planning at County or conurbation level. The lack of strategic plans since 2007 (when Structure Plans ceased to have effect) has been very damaging to planning in the West Midlands; yet these proposals reduce the power of Plans further.

“And we find it extraordinary that councillors and their work on planning are nowhere mentioned in “Planning for the Future”. Planning still has a democratic basis with elected members in charge of Plans and planning decisions. The Government appears to wipe them out of the planning system entirely.”

“Planning is a powerful tool for shaping the places in which we live and work. It has up till now helped the West Midlands urban areas grow in prosperity while protecting the countryside of the five Counties from sprawl . Until now it has been controlled by elected councillors. The planning system must be strengthened, not over-simplified to the point where it is too weak to resist ‘anything goes’ development. The Government must think again.”

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