Labour in Northumberland raises concerns over 'radical' changes to planning system

Labour in Northumberland has raised concerns about the Government’s proposals to allow more development without planning permission.

By Ben O'Connell
Friday, 10th July 2020, 11:08 am
Updated Friday, 10th July 2020, 11:09 am
Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced what the Government described as ‘the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War, making it easier to build better homes where people want to live’.

The changes, which are planned to come into effect by September through changes to the law, will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use and to create new homes from vacant and redundant buildings.

It is hoped this will both support the high-street revival by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly re-purposed and reduce the pressure to build on greenfield land by making brownfield development easier.

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The changes include:

More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be re-purposed – a building used for retail would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval. Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses ‘essential to the lifeblood of communities’ will not be covered by these flexibilities.

A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.

Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings, if they become homes.

Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast-track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

The Government started that ‘developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations, just without the unnecessary red tape’.

But the Northumberland Labour Group says this means local councils and people will no longer have a say in these decisions.

‘Planning processes were originally brought in by central government to ensure that local people could have their say and lodge their objections,’ it said. ‘Effectively this has been taken away at a stroke.’

Shadow cabinet member for planning, Coun Allan Hepple, added: “There has been a long-held right for local people, in whose community these developments take place, to voice their objections through the planning committees of local councils.

“The Government has driven a coach and horses through these rights, no longer will local people have a say. It is an attack on democracy.

“The people in Blyth have already seen the consequences of this with the conversion of Pal Joey’s.”

This refers to the vacant building across the road from Blyth Marketplace where heavily-opposed plans for bedsits were rejected by councillors. The refusal of this HMO was then confirmed on appeal.

However, the applicant can now go ahead with a scheme to convert the first and second floors of 27-9 Waterloo Road into two flats, with the ground floor remaining as retail use, under permitted development rights.

The Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, has also criticised the Government’s proposals, describing them as ‘riding rough-shod over any semblance of local democracy’.

In an opinion piece, he said: “Far from bolstering the high street, the announcement is an admission that the Government is giving up on serious high-street revival, allowing landlords to convert them into fast-food restaurants, cafés or low-quality housing with no democratic oversight.

“Our planning system is already tipped firmly in favour of the developers and the role of local people in deciding what is built where is currently woefully inadequate.”

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