Richmond Council has again heavily criticised the Government’s proposed planning ‘reforms’ in a motion passed by the Full Council last night.

The Government has already introduced a new permitted development right (PDR) to allow many buildings currently in commercial, business or service use to be converted to residential use without a formal planning application. This comes into force on 1 August. In many circumstances developers will be able to convert shops, nurseries, bars and restaurants into homes, without reference to local planning policy or the local community being consulted: through a process called Prior Approval. Without proper oversight, the Council will be unable to ensure that social infrastructure and support services are sufficient to support an increase in people living in an area, or to ensure delivery of the right type of homes, including affordable housing, or to ensure that those homes are developed sustainably. Furthermore, change of use to residential without planning oversight could see the disappearance of commercial and business premises critical to the recovery and growth of local high streets after the pandemic.

The Planning White Paper proposes additional steps that would remove the planning application stage with its legal requirement for community consultation. It proposes dividing all land into three categories: protected, renewal and growth to be set out in a new style zonal local plan. In the last two categories, once a design code has been prepared, consulted on and agreed, individual development schemes which conform can be carried out without consultation with or reference to the local community. Design codes can be very complex and lengthy documents which include greater flexibility to the developer than a traditional planning permission. The draft legislation stage for this paper is proposed for Autumn 2021.

Noting that the Secretary of State recently stated that there is no need to “rip up the planning system and start again”, the Council calls on the Government to scrap the proposals for planning reform in relation to plan-making that are contained in the White Paper. It should also undertake a review of permitted development rights and implement stronger controls on Ministers’ involvement with planning applications and interested parties.

Councillor Julia Neden-Watts, Chair of the Environment, Sustainability, Culture and Sports Committee said:

“The Council believes that the PDR steps already taken will themselves undermine the post-pandemic recovery of Richmond upon Thames high streets and local centres. This will be exacerbated, and the Local Plan and plan-making process of the borough put at further risk, by the ill-considered measures proposed in the delayed White Paper.

“As outlined in the Council motion, we strongly believe that local authorities, in consultation with residents, businesses, and community organisations, are best placed to understand the issues specific to their local area. They must have a say on proposed local developments. The Government’s proposals will curtail local people’s ability to influence development and shape the area where they live.

“We are open to the proposals for improving the planning system to be more digital and to offer greater opportunity to engage with local communities in a transparent and open way. It is critical now that the Government listens to Local Planning Authorities and rethinks its proposals, which will undermine the resilience of our high streets and local centres as they strive to become diverse, vibrant and successful locations once again.”

– from a Richmond Council press release - 14 July 2021