Over the last year the Government has been consulting on potential changes to the national planning system.

The proposals outlined in the August 2020 White Paper Planning for the Future were highly controversial and Ministers had already indicated they would be modified. Following the Cabinet reshuffle announced on 15 September by the Prime Minister the new Secretary of State responsible for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MCHLG) is Michael Gove, MP for neighbouring Surrey Heath. Mr Gove was expected to outline his thinking at the Conservative Party Conference, but despite well-trailed suggestions that he would want to water down many of the proposals in the White Paper he made no reference to this in his speech.

However this may have been because instead the Prime Minister made a clear statement in his own speech to the conference that "‘you can… see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need… beautiful homes, on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense." This has been seen as a clear shift away in tone away from allowing large developers to build on greenfield sites - we shall see.

At the same time there are at least two Private Members Bills tabled by Conservative MPs that are intended to clamp down on unauthorised development such as we have seen at Wanborough Fields. The first, from Ben Spencer MP, would strengthen the powers of local planning authorities to deal with repeated planning breaches. The second, from Gareth Bacon MP, would go even further, prohibiting retrospective planning applications and making unauthorised development without planning permission a criminal offence.

This all sounds very encouraging but, following a separate consultation launched in January 2021 by the MHCLG, a certain number of changes have already been made to the National Planning Policy Framework, the basic document governing the approach to all town and country planning, which weaken the powers of local authorities to protect the environment. During the public consultation we and others expressed concerns about possible changes to the rules around Article 4 Directions, which allow local councils to override what are known as Permitted Development Rights (the instrument that has allowed GBC to protect Wanborough Fields).

Some of these concerns have been heard; for example the requirement that the issuing of an Article 4 should “be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance” has been replaced by “should be limited to situations where an Article 4 direction is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area”, which is clearly an improvement.

However it is still questionable whether under the new regime GBC would be able to issue an Article 4 to protect a rural environment such as Wanborough Fields, and there are also major concerns about inappropriate conversion of office premises in urban areas into residential units, as argued in this piece from the Guildford Society.

There is therefore a lot to play for at the moment regarding the planning system. It is to be hoped that the Government will eventually come forward with proposals that make it more likely that the right homes will be built at the right prices in the right places, rather than giving a free pass to the large developers. We shall see!



Wednesday the 17th - Published by Normandy Action Group, 166 Glaziers Lane, Guildford GU3 2EB - with thanks to Keith Witham, Surrey County Councillor - Hostgator Coupon Template