Backlash over planning changes in Northumberland as Tories join opposition councillors in voicing fears

Tory councillors in Northumberland are among those to sign an open letter expressing serious concerns about the Government’s proposed planning reforms.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 10th December 2020, 6:00 am
County Hall, Morpeth. There are cross-party concerns in Northumberland over the planning changes.
County Hall, Morpeth. There are cross-party concerns in Northumberland over the planning changes.

CPRE, the countryside charity, and Friends of the Earth have joined more than 2,000 councillors from across England to call on the Government to rethink its proposals, which were consulted on recently following the August launch of the Planning for the Future White Paper.

At the time, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick described it as ‘an overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system that will deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need’.

However, 10 Northumberland county councillors, including a Conservative cabinet member, have joined 118 others from the North East, in calling on the Government to abandon the most damaging elements of its changes to the planning system in an open letter to Mr Jenrick.

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The signatories from the county are Cllr Nick Oliver, the Conservative cabinet member for corporate services, who represents Corbridge; Cllr Ian Hutchinson, the Conservative civic head and member for Haltwhistle; Cllr Anthony Murray, the Tory representative for Wooler; Labour group leader Cllr Susan Dungworth (Hartley); Cllrs Allan Hepple (Cramlington South East) and Kath Nisbet (Croft), also Labour; and the independents Anne Dale (Stocksfield and Broomhaugh), Georgina Hill (Berwick East), Derek Kennedy (Hexham West) and Malcolm Robinson (Bedlington West).

In the letter, councillors warn that the proposed changes to planning will undermine the trust that the public has in the planning system and ‘could radically reduce protections for nature, local green spaces and fail to tackle climate change.’

Local democracy is also a major concern for the signatories, with the proposals as they stand leading to ‘an unacceptable loss of local democracy, scrutiny and accountability and worse outcomes for communities’.

Back in August, Mr Jenrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.

“These once-in-a-generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country.”

He added: “We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.”

However, the open letter goes on to highlight the need for a strong local planning system to support sustainable development, community cohesion and a healthy environment, but highlights that the Government’s proposals as currently set out ‘will not achieve these goals.’

CPRE chief executive, Crispin Truman, said: “The message from MPs, communities and now more than 2,000 councillors is clear, but it is not too late for the Government to rethink its controversial upheaval of the planning system.

‘We stand with these councillors in urging Ministers to work with us to develop and deliver a better set of planning reforms that can actually deliver our country’s environmental, economic and social objectives.’

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