COUNCIL leaders have outlined their opposition to the Government’s proposed planning changes amid fears Birmingham’s streets could be swallowed up by “garden grabbing” housing developers.
Birmingham City Council swelled the ranks of bodies with concerns over the proposed National Planning Framework, which already includes the National Trust and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.
The authority’s regeneration chief, Coun Timothy Huxtable, said the changes could reopen the door to garden grabbing – just a year after the Coalition Government pledged to end it.
“We believe the current draft policy is weak and would pave the way for a shift in the focus away from urban areas to the periphery and shire towns beyond the green belt,” he said.
“In the council’s view, it also appears to reintroduce the potential for harmful garden grabbing.”
The Government wants to boost house building levels, which have slumped to their lowest levels for almost a century.
The Framework contains a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” – sparking fears that green spaces could be sacrificed in favour of economic growth.
Birmingham council also highlighted a range of other concerns in its official response to the Framework, submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The criticisms included:
n That the presumption in favour of development gives more weight to economic growth over environmental and social concerns.
n That requiring councils to identify an extra 20 per cent more land for housing would place extra pressure on greenfield sites.
n That removing protection for industrial and commercial employment land would hamper businesses in the search for sites as they would be outbid by housing developers.
On the plus side, Coun Huxtable welcomed the Government’s ambition of trying to simplify a range of planning policies and guidelines into a single strategy.
But he added: “Birmingham City Council has genuine concerns that some of the draft policies will serve to undermine current protection of the greenbelt, the natural environment, open space and employment land.
“It is also felt that some policies are contrary to Birmingham’s economic and development growth aspirations.”
The council’s planning committee chairman Coun Peter Douglas Osborn said the authority would be lobbying its friends in the Coalition Government to change some of the proposals.
He said he was particularly concerned that the authority’s record of keeping costly planning appeals, and subsequent losses, to a minimum could be shattered as developers tested the new policy.
“So much of this will depend on case law. There is much uncertainty and we are worried planning decisions will be taken at appeal,” he said.
“One problem we have is what does sustainable development mean? What is sustainable this year may not be next year.”
The National Trust said last week that it had received assurances from the Prime Minister that the planning system should continue to balance social, economic and environmental needs. It earlier said that the proposed reforms used the planning system “as a tool to promote economic growth ahead of everything else”.
Planning minister Greg Clark has already conceded that the policy ‘could have been clearer’.
The council’s planning committee was today due to consider the policy and agree its response.