Monday, 16 May 2016

Bad, bad, bad changes to planning policy

In this coming week’s Cornish Guardian, I have chosen to focus on recent developments in planning policy from central government and the likely adverse impact on Cornwall. It will be as follows:

In my column last week, I covered the fantastic news that 83% of voters in St Ives had endorsed a Neighbourhood Plan for their town, which included a policy to ensure that new-build properties could not be sold as second homes.

You may recall that I described it as being of “considerable significance for the development of Neighbourhood Plans” across Cornwall and that it represented a “fight-back against a top-down planning system ...”

A few days on, I must admit to being very worried about what happens next.

It has been well-publicised that developers are seeking to challenge the outcome of the referendum vote and it also appears that the Conservative MP for West Cornwall is publicly talking about how this aspect of the Neighbourhood Plan is against government policy.

But there have also been newspaper reports stating that central government ministers could “intervene to overturn the ban” on second homes which, I feel, would be an affront to democracy in Cornwall.

And while we are waiting to see if they act, there have been other announcements about planning which, as Chairman of the unitary authority’s Planning PAC (Policy Advisory Committee), has left me despairing.

The Conservative Government has won a ruling which means that developers will not have to provide affordable homes on small sites.

In 2014, the Government introduced a “small sites affordable housing contributions policy” that introduced a “national threshold of ten units,” below which affordable housing could not be sought. In certain rural areas, the threshold would have been five – though many rural areas in Cornwall fell outside of the Government’s ridiculous assessment of what is and what is not rural.

The decision was successfully challenged in the courts by West Berkshire District Council and Reading Borough Council but, this week, the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling and sided with the Government.

This is a massive set-back for Cornwall, as is the news that the Housing and Planning Bill also received royal assent last week.

Described by numerous agencies and charities as “disastrous,” this wide-ranging piece of legislation will, for example, further undermine the provision of affordable homes for rent with the extension of “Right to Buy” and a new focus on non-affordable starter homes. It will also undermine local decision-making with its fast-tracked “permission in principle for development” which will make it more difficult for local communities to object to proposals.

All in all, this has considerable significance for the second stage of the EiP (Examination in Public) into the draft Cornwall Local Plan, at which an Inspector will review whether the document is in-line with central government rules and regulations.

The EiP will take place over the next two weeks and will also be attended by a large number of developers, who will seek to put pressure on the Inspector to go against the views of local communities in many parts of Cornwall.

I feel it is going to be a difficult few days!

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