Campaigners hold off government's planning reforms

The government was planning to make changes to the system that shapes how our towns and communities develop. But backlash from our supporters and other organisations has provoked a re-think. Find out about the campaign against proposals to the planning system and why it's important.
  Published:  15 Sep 2021    |      2 minute read

What's the planning system and why does it matter?

The planning system shapes what development can happen and where. Done well, planning ensures that the right development happens in the right place and at the right time, benefiting communities, the environment and the economy.

For example, the current system allows you to have a say on whether an historic factory is demolished and residential flats built, or if the building could undergo change-of-use application and house flats within the historic building itself. It should be up to the community to decide what happens in their area and design the space around them.

The UK government proposed to rip up this system in 2020 and carve land in England into zones allocated for "growth", "renewal" or "protection".

Any development put forward in "growth" areas wouldn't need to get planning permission in the normal way, meaning communities and their elected representatives would be left out of decisions which could have a profound impact on the wildlife, carbon emissions and infrastructure in their own neighbourhoods.

The campaign against reforms

The proposals hit a wall of opposition from the outset.

Friends of the Earth joined with the countryside charity CPRE and tens of thousands of members of the public to contact MPs. Together, we persuaded over 2,000 local councillors across England to sign a joint letter against the proposals, and Friends of the Earth grassroots groups wrote to newspapers to defend the rights of communities. The government also faced a large revolt of its own backbenches on the issue.

Government backtracks?

In September 2021, following public outcry, news outlets reported the government was ditching its controversial move to exclude communities and local councillors from deciding on planning permission for new developments. What's more, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was sacked in a government reshuffle amid criticism of, among other things, the proposed planning reforms.

Friends of the Earth Senior Planner Rebecca Murray said:

"Thanks to overwhelming public pressure, proposals to stifle the voice of communities in many planning decisions have now been put on hold and look likely to be dropped. This is very welcome. But that still leaves us with a planning system that needs to take the climate and nature much more seriously when determining what gets built and where. Recent planning guidance issued by the government this year has fallen well short of placing carbon emission reduction, wellbeing and biodiversity front and centre.

"The government has said it still intends to get parliament to pass new planning legislation. If the attacks on local democracy have now been rightly abandoned, this could be an opportunity to win the planning system that the communities of today and tomorrow need and deserve."

What next?

The Planning Bill is due to be announced with government’s consultation response before the end of the year. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the proposals, but we know the battle to bring carbon emission reduction and nature recovery to the front and centre of national policy is far from over – and now includes the fight to safeguard the public’s right to decide what’s built in their communities.

The time for creating a planning system that is fit for purpose and for the future is now.

Do you want to make a meaningful difference where you live?

Do you want to make a meaningful difference where you live?