Planning reforms and the Ox-Cam Arc – proposed changes

The Government has signalled its intent to reform England’s planning system in a white paper entitled Planning for the Future. Consultation on this closed on 29th October 2020. It is also committed to developing the Oxford-Cambridge Arc – the area that spans the five ceremonial counties of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire- and will be consulting on this in the Spring 2021. Both these developments could have a huge impact in our area.

SB Friends of the Earth has many concerns about the planning reforms which are bad news for our communities, climate and local democracy. These include:

  • A reduction in democratic accountability and public scrutiny by undermining the ability of councils to set local planning policies and determine planning applications. Under the proposals, the development management process would be ‘streamlined’ with automatic planning permission for schemes in line with pre-agreed plans.
  • The proposals will widen and change the nature of permitted development. We are concerned that proposals will lead to homes in unsuitable locations or failing to meet basic standards.
  • In addition proper strategic environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments could be ditched – the consultation wants to make these faster and simpler.
  • South Bedfordshire and the wider south east will continue to be under pressure to increase housing development, to the detriment of efforts to combat climate change and increase biodiversity leading to
    • Loss of habitat
    • Pressure on our local rivers and streams to supply water for growing population
    • Increased water run-off from buildings leading to flooding, exacerbated by climate change
    • Housing which is built, not to the very highest efficiency standards but only “what is necessary”
  • Local new housing has often been unaffordable, even when allocated as such. Often it is not sold to first time buyers or as a primary home, rather being bought by investors or those who already have homes. There is nothing in the planning reforms or the Ox Cam Arc proposals that is likely to change this. Councils need to be supported to build affordable, efficient, low carbon housing for those most in need.
  • The proposals for the Ox-Cam Arc do not appear to have taken account ofthe loss of jobs and businesses caused by the Covid pandemic, nor any population and business changes caused by Brexit. While job growth may have outstripped housing growth in the past, the needs going forward will be very different. We need a different approach to meet net zero carbon targets which encompasses more use of technology and the development of a green economy
  • The planning system needs reforming, but not in this way. There needs to be a clear path for addressing climate change, improving biodiversity, more efficient use of technology, sustainable construction, greater resilience and a more equal society. Planning should promote health and wellbeing. It should redistribute the value of land. Planning permission triggers significant increases in the value of land, especially in South Bedfordshire and the South East where a piece of land may have a business opportunity 60 times or more of its agricultural value simply by being given planning permission. This contributes to the excessive cost of housing.

SB FoE will continue to campaign for a planning system and local development that addresses climate change and improves biodiversity and equality.