Rochdale council, along with nine other councils that make up Greater Manchester, has embarked on an ambitious strategy to plan the future development needs of the whole city region. It is not without its problems and controversies, but Faisal says that is nothing to the devastating impact the Government’s Planning White Paper will have on all our local communities.
Rochdale is part of Greater Manchester, a conurbation of more than three million people. Civic leaders there are grappling with the hugely complicated problem of deciding how many new homes we need to build to meet future demand, and even more controversial, where to build them.
The fancy name of the Greater Manchester Spatial Strategy (GMSF) aims to set out our housing and industry needs for the next 20 years. Our local leaders have been debating and postponing the issue for what seems like an age. Looking that far ahead seems more akin to crystal ball gazing rather than detailed planning calculations and projections.
Debate has led to several “Save Our Greenbelt” campaigns: residents worried about the bulldozers tearing up their local countryside walks, green spaces, and beauty spots. I say good luck to them. There is nothing more worrying than the matter being left to planning officers and housing developers carving up Greater Manchester’s planning map.
Who else will speak up for our precious green belt but those who enjoy and value it? Tens of thousands have made their views known through public consultations – and we are to have yet another round starting this Autumn.
But there is one thing that should worry every single resident of Greater Manchester, never mind every environmental campaigner, that will have a huge impact on future planning decisions for years to come.
Government recently published a planning white paper which proposes reform of the planning system in England. The proposals will see councils lose control of important planning decisions.
The Bill says it would “streamline” the planning process, cut red tape and make it easier to get new homes for local communities built. But, in fact, it would lead to developments going ahead without any proper public scrutiny and against the wishes of local people.
The Government’s plans mean that areas would be earmarked for development and then there would be no need for planning permission to be granted by local councils. What is worse, it will be using algorithms to decide how many and where up to 300,000 new homes a year will be built. We all know how successful these computer-led diktats were in setting A-level results.
It will result in little control over developments, overriding local knowledge and circumstances, with local people having no say over developments. The Government has also stated that developments of 50 homes or less would not have to provide any affordable housing. I have been a local Councillor for a long time, and I do not ever recall ever reading a Government report which has annoyed and terrified me more than this one.
Local communities deserve the power to run its own planning system. Planning committees should not be threatened with having its powers taken away. There has been a huge amount of criticism of these draconian proposals all over the country, but the Government is not listening. They want to help their developer friends by sweeping away the local restrictions that keep them under some control.
No parcel of land will be safe from the threat of development, and with fewer affordable homes, many will be too expensive for local families. The Housing Minister Christopher Pincher publicly confirmed that he is looking to loosen restrictions in planning law, to make it easier to push through housing schemes.
And the Prime Minister meanwhile has stated he will be bringing forward the ‘most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the Second World War. The planning system already favours the developers over communities, and any further loosening of planning laws would be a disaster for towns and cities right across the country.
At the root of all this is local democracy. Local communities and their elected councillors should have the ability to make their own decisions based on local needs. What happens in our local planning committees is extremely important and should be vigorously defended. I will be continuing to campaign for greater local control and I hope our Green Belt campaigners will be doing the same.
People must have the opportunity to make their views known loud and clear, however uncomfortable it is for politicians, whether in the town hall or Whitehall. You have the ultimate power to turn us out. You cannot do that with faceless civil servants and planning inspectors who will be running the show in the future. Not to mention their dreaded computer programmes.