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Warning over local planning ‘illusion’

By Jamie Carpenter Friday, 23 September 2011

The most senior Liberal Democrat in local government has warned that the coalition government’s neighbourhood planning reforms give the “illusion” of local involvement in planning “without the reality of it”.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the Local Government Association’s Liberal Democrat group and leader of Portsmouth City Council, told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Birmingham: “We shouldn’t lie to people. That’s a bad thing for politicians to be doing.”

Under provisions in the Localism Bill, local groups would be able to produce neighbourhood-level plans and grant blanket planning permission for certain types of development.

But Vernon-Jackson said that there is a mismatch between what local people will articulate a desire for through the new neighbourhood planning system and the degree of control over development that residents will actually be able to exert. He pointed out that new neighbourhood plans would be required to be consistent with national planning policy and conform to the strategic elements of local plans.

Senior coalition ministers have sought to rebuff critics of the controversial draft National Planning Policy Framework by saying that the reforms would put local communities in charge of planning. In a joint letter to the Financial Times last month, chancellor George Osborne and communities secretary Eric Pickles wrote: “Communities will soon have the chance to say where they want new shops, homes and businesses to go, and what they should look like.”

But Vernon-Jackson told the fringe meeting, organised by campaign groups Friends of the Earth, Living Streets and Localise West Midlands: “This gives the illusion of local involvement in planning. My worry is that we are giving the illusion to people that they can control the environment, without actually the reality of it.”

He added: “In my ward, I think if we went and asked people what they wanted in a plan for that local ward, there would be three things that would come out of it. Number one, there shall be no development ever here full stop. Number two, there shall be no subdivision of houses into flats. And number three, if we have to have any development or subdivision, there should be at least three off-street parking spaces provided for each one. That’s clearly impossible, but that’s what local people will articulate a desire for through this process.”

Majeed Neky, people and places campaign coordinator at Living Streets, said: “There’s a fundamental mismatch between the expectations about what local people are going to get out of this bill and the amount of power that government is prepared to cede to them.”