Friday, 26 May 2017

Pickles accused of legalising cash for planning

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has been accused of attempting to legalise planning decisions made on the basis of financial reward.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England claimed in February that the New Homes Bonus, a government incentive to give councils money for new homes built, was open to legal challenge. By linking planning decisions to payments, they claimed, the decisions were ‘tainted’.

Mr Pickles has tabled an amendment to the Localism Bill, which is due to go to report stage in the House of Commons next week, that would allow councils to accept government money for agreeing to development. The CPRE claims this allows councils to make pro-growth decisions, regardless of the local plan or environmental needs.

Neil Sinden, director of policy for CPRE, said: ‘This amendment is a brazen attempt to legalise cash for sprawl. Many may have criticised the UK planning system in the past, but at least decisions were, on the whole, made on merit and not money.

‘Councils are currently facing hard financial choices. In these circumstances it is very tempting to seek to fill shrinking coffers by permitting any development, regardless of its environmental impact or the views of local communities.’

Other government amendments that will be brought forward next week include one to allow businesses to have a say in local development.

As it stands, the bill will allow neighbourhood groups to draw up planning proposals for their areas. Under the amendment membership of these groups would be extended to local businesses.

The British Property Federation welcomed the change. Chief executive Liz Peace said: ‘Businesses, including property owners, are as much a part of a community as residents and their involvement will be vital if government is to realise its aim of using the planning system to boost development and economic growth.’

A Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: ‘The amendment in the Localism Bill clarifies that local finance considerations, such as the New Homes Bonus and the Community Infrastructure Levy, may be taken into account in relation to planning applications – but only where they are material to the particular application being considered.

‘The amendment does not change the legal position on what can be taken into account in the determination of planning applications. As before - unacceptable developments should not be giving consent just to unlock incentive payments, and a matter can only be considered material to a planning application if it relates to the development and use of land, and to the merits of the application under consideration.’

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