Councils ‘powerless’ to stop new homes onslaught

13:10 15 January 2014

Barnstaple and other North Devon towns are being targeted by housing developers.

Barnstaple and other North Devon towns are being targeted by housing developers.

Archant

Decision to withhold new homes bonus labelled ‘scandalous perversion of the democratic process’.

LOCAL planning authorities are being rendered ‘powerless’ in the face of Government plans to withhold bonuses for new homes, anti-development campaigners have warned.

Housing developments built after being refused by local councils, but then allowed on appeal, could attract no reward for local councils under plans announced by Chancellor George Osborne.

But DEFEND North Devon chairman Steve Crowther has labelled the move a ‘scandalous perversion of the democratic process’ which would effectively wipe out the power for local communities to determine their own development decisions.

“Combined with the Government’s current presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development and the lack of up-to-date local plans, this latest move means it is virtually impossible for any local planning authority to turn down a housing development, no matter how huge, or whether it is within the current development boundaries,” he said.

“Already councillors are being told that they can’t refuse applications like Larkbear because any refusal would be overturned by the Planning Inspectorate following a costly appeal.

“Now it seems they’ll also be told that if they say ‘no’ they’ll jeopardise £2million in bonuses for North Devon and Torridge this year.

“It’s ‘game over’ for our councillors; they may as well stay at home.”

Earlier this month, the Gazette reported that North Devon Council and Torridge District Council are set to pocket almost £2million in new homes bonuses.

The North Devon and Torridge Local Plan was expected by the end of last year but delays have meant the final document will not now be submitted to the Secretary of State until the summer.

Once formally completed and adopted, the local plan will set out development across northern Devon until 2031.

“Regardless of how well developed the plan was under the previous government, the councils have had to start again under the new coalition,” said Mr Crowther.

“From what I understand, councils were not originally told the degree of evidence needed to support their plan, hence the delay.”

Mr Crowther said DEFEND – an alliance of 15 local development action groups – had spoken to the two district councils about organising a public debate to air the current planning issues.

“We haven’t set DEFEND up to beat councils with a stick – we want to provide real public debate to help councils to fight and to execute their own democratic mandate,” he said.

“Local councils are effectively being hamstrung by the Government and we are waving the flag about what’s going on.

“We are here to make sure the debate is out there and members of the public can have their say.”

On Monday, North Devon Council leader Cllr Brian Greenslade said: “It is a concern that these proposed government changes could put additional pressure on planning committee members, making their roles even tougher.

“However, we have a statutory duty as the local planning authority to consider each application under its own merit and this will continue to happen into the future.

“With regard to the request from DEFEND for a public debate, I have just received their letter today and am considering their request.”

Tonight (Wednesday), North Devon Council will debate planning issues at a full council meeting.

A notice of motion submitted by Councillor Joe Tucker reads: “This council is very concerned by the ‘straight jacket’ the National Planning Policy Framework places local planning authorities into made worse by the Government now announcing that in future, housing development won on appeal will not attract new homes bonus.”

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