Robert Jenrick says concerns over planning overhaul are 'nonsense'

Ben Quinn
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA</span>
Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Warnings that proposals for the biggest shake-up of planning in decades could pave the way for “the next generation of slums” have been described by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, as “nonsense”.

A long-awaited planning white paper was published on Wednesday envisaging land across England being divided into three categories: for growth, renewal or protection. Concerns have been raised that democratic oversight could be diluted and affordable housing cut back.

In a round of morning interviews, Jenrick said the proposals would lead to more social housing through a new infrastructure levy and that there would be “a really serious debate” in communities when plans were being produced.

Related: How the planning system shake-up will affect housing in England

Critics of the proposals laid out in the Planning for the Future document say the measures would in effect strip away a whole layer of scrutiny at local level in which councillors, the public and others take part as applications make their way through the system.

Facing criticism from Labour, which labelled the white paper a “developer’s charter”, Jenrick told BBC Radio 4 he had “no idea” how much property developers had donated to the Tories in the past year. “We’re actually asking developers to pay more,” he said.

Asked about the Royal Institute of British Architect’s comments that the proposals were “shameful”, he told Sky News: “That I’m afraid is complete nonsense. I saw those comments and they were put out before we’d even published the document.”

“Design and quality” would be at the heart of the new process, he told Talk Radio, adding that “every local community” would be able to create their own binding design code to which developers would have to adhere

“More money is going to be spent on social infrastructure as a result of these reforms than has been in the past, and a much simpler system,” he said. “These reforms are going to really help smaller builders. This isn’t going to help the big volume house builders, this is designed to help smaller builders … in the market – they’ve declined significantly over the course of the last 20 or 30 years.”

The white paper says the new system would “make it easier for those who want to build beautifully through the introduction of a fast-track for beauty through changes to national policy and legislation, to automatically permit proposals for high-quality developments where they reflect local character and preferences”.

Areas identified as growth zones and “suitable for substantial development” would automatically be granted “outline planning permission for the principle of development”, it states, while automatic approvals would also be available for pre-established development types in other areas suitable for building.

“There will therefore be no need to submit a further planning application to test whether the site can be approved,” the document says.

The policy director of the Town and Country Planning Association called on the government to provide evidence of how the current planning system was “desperately broken”.

Hugh Ellis told the Today programme: “Change is a good thing to planning, there’s no doubt about that, but the most important thing is that people’s voice is not going to be enhanced, this is not a democratisation of planning and that is really troubling to us.”

The shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury said: “This is a developer’s charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions and denied vital funding for building schools, clinics and community infrastructure.”

The Local Government Association’s chairman, James Jamieson, said nine in 10 applications were approved by councils, with more than a million homes given planning permission over the last decade yet to be built, and that the system should focus on that.

“Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern,” said Jamieson, who is also the Tory council leader in central Bedfordshire.