Gove’s planning reforms will ‘erode’ the public’s ability to object, legal advice warns

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Michael Gove is facing calls to tear up his landmark planning reforms after a former Boris Johnson adviser warned landlords will not be able to oppose nearby developments under the proposals.

Ministers announced the legislation in a flurry of publicity over new ‘street votes’ on loft conversions and conservatories last month.

But a new legal opinion, which has been seen by The Independent and will be published by the House of Commons Leveling Committee next week, warns that the bill will “significantly erode” the rights of local people.

Campaigners accused Upgrade Secretary Mr Gove of a ‘power grab’ and warned shoddy developments would be built against the wishes of those forced to live alongside them.

The Town and Country Planning Association said that, following the legal opinion, the government should amend the bill.

Paul Brown QC, who advised the Prime Minister on planning when Mr Johnson was Mayor of London, wrote: ‘The Bill introduces a new mechanism for the Secretary of State to grant planning permission for developments controversial, bypassing the planning system entirely. The public has no right to be consulted in this process.

He adds: “Overall…the bill drastically centralizes planning decision-making and significantly erodes public participation in the planning system.

Naomi Luhde-Thompson, director of climate change organization Rights Community Action, which commissioned the legal opinion, said: “This opinion is devastating in terms of the impact these proposed laws have on voice people in the decisions that matter to their communities. It excludes people from decisions, when we need everyone on deck to deal with the crises we face. Engaging people and communities in developing and changing places is a foundation for building places for all.

Fiona Howie, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said the plans run counter to the government’s leveling program “which has highlighted the importance of empowering local leaders and communities”. She added: ‘So we hope the government will take the legal advice on board and seek to amend the Bill as it passes through Parliament.’

Under the government’s “street votes” plan, people could be given the right to vote on proposed property extensions as well as new homes.

But Crispin Truman, chief executive of the rural charity CPRE, said far from bolstering local democracy, the leveling bill “is a cleverly disguised power grab by the government”. He added: “As currently written, ministers would have unprecedented power to overturn local plans and, based on the government’s track record, this could mean more shoddy and inappropriate developments being forced on people against their will. .”

He also warned that the bill would leave local councils less able to ‘deliver affordable housing on small sites, new nature reserves or on renewable energy generation in new housing estates’.

Rebecca Murray of Friends of the Earth said the government’s upgrade program “is intended to empower communities to regenerate their local areas and ensure that planning decisions are made democratically – yet, this bill is supposed to do the exact opposite.”

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said public participation in planning was important because it gave people a voice in protecting nature and responding to climate change. “If ministers are allowed to drown out these voices, important environmental concerns may go unheard,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities said: “The Leveling Bill will put power back in the hands of communities and local leaders, simplify the planning system and end outdated bureaucratic practices that slow down regeneration.

“Under our reforms, local people will be in charge of planning, not big developers or national dictates, and communities will have more of a say in local plans, giving them more opportunities to shape what happening in their region and stronger foundations to resist unwanted development. ”

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