Britain’s Coalition Government has announced a series of sweeping changes to the planning system.

These include the scrapping of Regional Strategies such as the South East Plan and the housing targets imposed by the previous Government which have cast such a shadow over Surrey’s countryside and communities in recent years.

Along with the scrapping of the SE Plan, the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) has had its budget slashed and its Regional Economic Strategy has been shelved. SEEDA will be closed down completely in spring 2011 and be replaced by democratically accountable Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Another development quango, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, has also been axed, and the Government Office for the South East (GOSE) looks set to be scrapped too.

An end to “garden grabbing”?

One of the key planning policy changes affects gardens. Guidance to local councils has been revised so that gardens are no longer to be treated as brownfield land. This should end “garden grabbing” by developers and help preserve green spaces in Surrey’s towns.

Despite the various changes, councils will need to continue work on their Local Development Frameworks, but are being encouraged to review their approach to housing in light of the policy changes already announced. It is anticipated that simplified Local Plans will replace the LDF system in due course.

Crucially, instead of having to meet regional housing targets, local councils will be offered financial incentives by the Government to provide housing where there is a clear local need. In rural areas local communities will be able to hold their own referendums to decide whether to build new homes or local facilities in the Green Belt.

“Localism” replaces Regionalism

In place of Labour’s policy of “Regionalism”, the Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition says it wants to promote a new “Localism” and to promote democratic decision-making on planning. These changes will be set out in a Decentralisation and Localism Bill later this year.

CPRE has welcomed the broad thrust of the new Government’s proposals but expressed concerns about the uncertainty and confusion that has been created by the piecemeal way in which the changes are being announced. Hopefully the legislation later in the year will put an end to this uncertainty.

CPRE needs to continue to be vigilant and to ensure that “Localism” works to the advantage of our precious countryside.

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