As with other parish council committees, Planning and Highways has been meeting using video conferencing. The number of plans received during lockdown has diminished significantly. The Planning and Highways Committee reviews plans which are submitted for projects within the parish. It is Swindon Borough Council who are the final decision makers unless an applicant wants to take a decision to reject a plan to the Planning Inspectorate.
However, just to compensate, we must review and comment on plans put forward by the government to relax the planning laws further. Here are a couple of examples.
Government Planning Review
On initial reading it would appear that local authorities, whether the Borough Council or the Parish Council will be stripped of any power to influence planning decisions.
It is suggested that local authorities engage with communities to create map based local plans designating areas for growth, renewal or protection. It sounds like the much vaunted “local plan” in a new incarnation. Local authorities are finding that in many cases local plans are not worth the paper they are written on.
There appears to be no sanctions on developers who “land bank” and refuse to build on land that they hold until the value of it goes up.
The document talks of “design standards” but with little detail. Already there appears to be a race to the bottom as developers exploit the relaxation of permitted development rights (PDR). Since 2013 PDR has allowed developers to bypass the requirement to apply for planning permission when turning office blocks into flats. In 2016 this was expanded to include shops, bookmakers and launderettes. In 2019 fast food outlets were added. Some of these flats have a floor area of as little as 160 square feet with very little natural light. According to the government planning portal the minimum size of a car parking space should be 4.8 x 2.4 metres. This equates to 124 square feet.
Right to Regenerate
The government wants to empower people to challenge the inefficient use of public sector land in their communities, and to bring it into better economic use, including to provide new homes. The government is consulting on the effectiveness of these requests as it considers reforms to make the process more efficient and more transparent.
The government believes that reforming the Right to Contest and relaunching it as a new “Right to Regenerate”’ could provide a quicker and easier route for individuals, businesses and organisations to identify, purchase and redevelop underused or empty land in their area. The “Right to Contest” was a method whereby individuals could ask for publicly owned land or buildings to be sold if it was thought that they were vacant or underused. In turn, the government believes, a strengthened right would support greater regeneration of brownfield land, boost housing supply and empower people to turn blights and empty spaces in their areas into more beautiful developments.