Somerset West and Taunton Council react to government’s planning proposals

PROPOSED new ‘disappointing’ planning rules could see developments pushed through with less scrutiny from local councils and residents.

The government launched a consultation over its ‘Planning for the Future’ documents, which claim to seek to improve the number of houses being built.

The plans delve into the ‘issues’ of planning, which the government says often leads to ‘excellence in planning’ being the exception, not the rule.

The document said: ” Planning decisions are discretionary rather than rules-based: nearly all decisions to grant consent are undertaken on a case-by-case basis, rather than determined by clear rules for what can and cannot be done. This makes the English planning system and those derived from it an exception internationally, and it has the important consequences of increasing planning risk, pushing up the cost of capital for development and discouraging both innovation and the bringing forward of land for development.

“Decisions are also often overturned – of the planning applications determined at appeal, 36 per cent of decisions relating to major applications and 30 per cent of decisions relating to minor applications are overturned.”

The proposals aim to ‘simplify’ the role of local plans, meaning outline approval for developments would automatically be secured for forms and types of projects identified in the local plan.

Local plans would set clear rules, rather than general policies for development.

But with these new rules, come new housing targets for local authorities.

Somerset West and Taunton Council’s executive member for planning and transport, Cllr Mike Rigby, said the new targets for the area were ‘mystifying’ and ‘very disappointing’.

He added: “We will be responding to the government consultation in detail in due course as there are issues with the proposed new methodology.

“It is highly reliant on national population and household projections that are known to be subject to error and are heavily influenced by short term trends in house building.

“We believe our planning system should drive and deliver sustainable development and the creation of greener and healthier places that put walking, cycling and active travel first, and enhance our built and natural landscapes for this and future generations.”

Cllr Benet Allen is also disappointed with the proposed new rules, and what they would mean for West Somerset.

In a video on the Bridgwater and West Somerset Liberal Democrats’ Facebook page, he explains what the new plans would mean for the area, while standing in front of a field earmarked for development.

He said: “This is the local plan, and the field behind me is an area marked for strategic development.

“We marked it because the government insisted that we have five years of development land banked in advance.

“Now, they want to change the planning rules. If the new planning rules go through, this is an order from Westminster, we won’t any longer have a say about what sort of development happens here on this field behind me.

“Instead, any development which meets the local plan requirements, we will be compelled to say yes to – we won’t really be a planning authority any more.

“It’s not my job to speak for or against a planning application – that’s your job, the people of Somerset West and Taunton.

“But the only say you’re going to have under the new rules is what’s been written in the local plan. Once it’s in the local plan, you and I won’t be able to say anything more about it.

“Development will just go ahead, wherever we have drawn a red box.”

For more information on the consultation visit gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future.

Somerset County Gazette | News