Alliance attacks coalition on regions

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An assault on the coalition’s planning policies has been launched by almost 30 organisations including property associations, engineering bodies and green charities in a letter to Eric Pickles, the communities secretary. In the correspondence, seen by the Financial Times, bodies ranging from Friends of the Earth and WWF to the Rail Freight Group and the Institution of Civil Engineers have formed an unaccustomed alliance to condemn the dismantling of Labour’s regional planning systems.

Mr Pickles has cancelled the “regional strategies” drawn up to oversee housebuilding targets for different parts of Britain. Promising incentives for communities that encouraged housebuilding, he denounced “Soviet tractor style top-down planning targets” because they were expensive and time-consuming.

The housebuilders have voiced their concerns at the immediate impact on their industry, after councils rejected plans for thousands of new homes in the weeks after the general election.

Some have warned of a “hiatus” lasting a year or two as councils adjust to the new, more locally acc­ountable planning system.

But these planning reforms could have wider negative consequences beyond the property industry, according to Ann Skippers, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute. The letter was organised by the RTPI, which represents 23,000 planners in the public and private sectors.

Some of the environmental groups are concerned, for example, that the strategic plans, which have now been dismantled, had helped protect green belt and conservation areas.

Mrs Skippers warned that the planning reforms could hinder solutions to the housing crisis, to tackling climate change, to expanding renewable energy infrastructure and to reversing biodiversity loss.

Although the localism agenda had its benefits, it was important for communities, she said, to develop strategic thinking “beyond the local level” to deal with issues such as waste management and flood protection. Meanwhile, in the letter the signatories call for a meeting with Mr Pickles to discuss filling the gap in the planning process in a “positive, constructive manner”.

They said: “Such a meeting is, we believe, particularly urgent now that regional spatial strategies have been revoked and there is the need to limit any adverse impacts that this may have on investment while communities consider and implement alternative approaches.”

A Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “The current top-down bureaucratic planning model has been very good at generating impressive-sounding numbers but built nothing but resentment.

“By allowing communities to shape their neighbourhoods and share in the benefits, we are beginning to restore the idea that development can be a force for good, rather than something to be resisted at all costs.”

Paul de Zylva, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said it was unclear whether hundreds of local plans from councils could address wider environmental issues.

*List of signatories in full:

Association of Building Engineers

Association of Consultant Architects

Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport

British Property Federation

British Urban Regeneration Association

Campaign to Protect Rural England

Campaign for Better Transport

Chartered Institute of Housing

Construction Industry Council

Country Land and Business Association

Environmental Protection UK

Freight on Rail

Friends of the Earth

Institute of Historic Building Conservation

Institution of Civil Engineers

Institution of Structural Engineers

Landscape Institute

Local Government Technical Advisers Group

National Housing Federation

Planning Officers Society

Rail Freight Group

Royal Institute of British Architects

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Royal Town Planning Institute

Shelter

Sustrans

Town and Country Planning Association

UK Green Building Council

WWF-UK

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