One in ten councillors in England have written to the Government to object to a planning “algorithm” and proposed changes including removing the right of the public to be heard in person.
More than 2,000 councillors signed a letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, calling on the Government to rethink reforms which limit local oversight of housing developments and allocate new housing to areas based on affordability.
Critics have warned that the changes, set out in two documents published this year, will hit Tory heartlands in southern England the hardest, putting pressure on rural areas to make space for hundreds of new homes and reducing local ability to affect their nature and location.
The changes will “lead to an unacceptable loss of local democracy, scrutiny and accountability and lead to worse outcomes for communities”, the group, coordinated by CPRE, the Countryside Charity, and Friends of the Earth, claimed.
They will also “radically reduce protections for nature, local green spaces and fail to tackle climate change,” they said.
Just under 20 per cent of signatories were from the Conservative party, with the largest representations coming from Labour and Liberal Democrat signatories. Just over a quarter come from the south east, with the north east and south west making up the second and third largest groups.
Louise Goldsmith, a West Sussex county councillor, said: “The real serious problem, particularly in the south east, is the government believes in an economic theory that you build a lot of houses and therefore the price will drop. It’s flawed because land supply is limited.
“It’s these housing numbers which are imposed without looking at the area, and they’re top-down driven, centrally driven.
“What everyone is wanting is – have faith in us, trust us. We know what we can deliver safely and sustainably.”
Two consultations on the plans closed in October. The Government is currently considering responses.
Suggestions include imposing nationally-determined and binding housing requirements and removing the automatic right to appear in person at hearings discussing local plans.
The reforms are designed to streamline the system to make it easier for national housing targets of 300,000 new homes a year to be met, but critics say they unfairly exclude local people from having influence over what happens in their area.
The Telegraph previously reported on the so-called “mutant” algorithm, which House of Commons library analysis found would require rural counties to find space for 1.5 million new homes.
Last month it was revealed that Mr Jenrick was rebalancing the plans with a renewed focus on building in urban areas in response to criticism.
Last week the Telegraph reported that backbench MPs are preparing to ensure the rethink goes far enough by tabling amendments to the Environment Bill limiting the power of housing targets to override environmental concerns.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE said: “The message from MPs, communities and now over two thousand councillors is clear but it is not too late for the government to rethink its controversial upheaval of the planning system.
“Planning done well can create the affordable and well-designed homes that communities are crying out for.
“We can create low carbon and nature friendly homes, with an abundance of green space on their doorsteps, all connected by low carbon public transport.
“Investing in a locally-led democratic planning system, that empowers local councils to create these places, should be the government’s top priority.”
An MHCLG spokesman said: “These concerns are entirely unfounded and demonstrate a misunderstanding of our proposals.
“Our reforms to the planning system will protect our cherished countryside and green spaces for generations to come.
“The proposals will put local democracy at the heart of the planning process, enabling Green Belt decisions to remain with councils and giving communities real influence over development location and design.”