Amendment to localism bill shocks green groups

Planning and environment charities are up in arms about new proposals in the Localism Bill which will allow councils to make the payment of government cash a key factor in making planning decisions.

The amendment, tabled by the government yesterday, specifically allows councils to accept government cash for making positive planning decisions, and has already been branded “cash for sprawl” by countryside campaigners.

The move by communities secretary Eric Pickles has been forced by a threat from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to sue the government over the introduction of the New Homes Bonus, which it claims could distort planning decisions.

The New Homes Bonus has been introduced as a way to incentivise potentially anti-development councils to allow the construction of new homes.

Planning charity the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) said the amendment risked undermining the role of planning. Hugh Ellis, TCPA Chief Planner said: “While the Government claims this is a minor change to reinforce the New Homes Bonus, in fact it means direct cash payments will become the first amongst equals of considerations for new development. This, along with other measures announced in the Budget, risks further undermining the role of planning which is to deliver sustainable development in the wider public interest.”

Neil Sinden, Director of Policy for CPRE, says: “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. 

“Decisions based on financial benefit, rather than on whether proposed development is appropriate, could be hugely damaging to the environment and public confidence in planning.”

The new amendment proposes to change the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act to specifically allow “local finance considerations” to be part of the basis of making a planning decision. It definies these considerations as either money from the proposed Community Infrastructure Levy, or “a grant or other financial assistance that has been, or will or could be, provided to a relevant authority by a Minister of the Crown.”

All amendments will be debated and voted on at third reading the House of Commons next Tuesday.