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The independent London newspaper

Planning shake-up ‘a gift to wealthy property developers’

Critics say proposed fast-track approvals would ‘undermine the effort to build the social and key-worker rented homes Westminster desperately needs’

14 August, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Robert Jenrick: ‘Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need’

A NEW planning regime being proposed by the government would “hand huge powers to developers”, critics have warned.

The opposition councillors on Westminster City Council say proposals in the Planning for the Future white paper would stop people from responding to applications and give developers even more leeway to circumvent affordable housing commitments.

Westminster Labour say it is “fiercely opposed” to the proposals which has even alarmed Westminster Conservatives, with council leader Rachael Robathan warning that democratic accountability could be eroded.

Leader of the Labour group Cllr Adam Hug said: “The Conservatives are proposing a massive transfer of power from local people to wealthy property developers.

“It will deliberately undermine the effort to build the social and key-worker rented homes Westminster desperately needs while waving through new luxury developments with residents having virtually no say in the matter.”

Under the proposed changes, new buildings that complied with a pre-agreed set of design standards would be automatically approved without public discussion in a set-up known as “zoning”.

Council leader Rachael Robathan

The current planning system has many critics and few would argue against reform.

Critics say the council has not ensured enough social housing in Westminster, while developers have made vast fortunes out of publicly-owned land.

The 2018 Westminster Council gifts and hospitality revelations exasperated public perception that the system was potentially corrupt.

But thousands of residents are given a voice with a chance to comment and the council’s committee the capacity to veto schemes.

Under the zoning scheme, controversial developments in growth areas like, for example Paddington, would simply go ahead.

The plan would allow developments below 50 flats to not include any social housing at all.

The scheme would shake up the current section 106 system that could lead to fewer affordable homes being built in Westminster.

Cllr Robathan said: “We share in the government’s ambition to accelerate the delivery of badly needed affordable housing.

“However the key point for us is that there must be local control for residents through democratic channels so their voices are clearly heard.

“We will be working closely with ministers to ensure resident consultation is at the heart of the planning process.”

The government announced last week what it described as “landmark changes will transform a system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing…”

Outlining “the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades”, housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.”

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