October 2020 Government Consultation Planning White Paper

Whitby Civic Society's response to Robert Goodwill MP

I am writing to you on behalf of Whitby Civic Society to let you know briefly of our thoughts about the current Planning White Paper. We are aware that a national review of planning is needed, and that many people have lost trust in the existing system’s capacity for consulting local communities. We broadly welcome proposals for early consultation, so long as it does not come at the cost of later involvement, and we also welcome the proposals for digital engagement, especially if they are accompanied by measures to ensure that all can participate.

At the same time, we have some significant reservations and concerns. First, we are alarmed at the potential loss of local accountability, and at the apparent erosion of local democracy and community influence. Engaging local communities may cause some delay, but in the end we think it leads to better outcomes; and the consequences of planning decisions  are, of course, with us for a long time. We are not yet persuaded of the benefits of a new body at national level unless it is to serve as a source of guidance and advice – not regulation – for local planning authorities.

Second, the White Paper does not address the need for affordable housing. The principle of developer contributions is likely in itself to limit if not reduce the volume of affordable housing; the White Paper is notably silent on the need for new housing to meet local need in areas such as ours, which are increasingly dominated by second homes and holiday lets.

Third, the White Paper does not set out proposals to raise standards for fully accessible housing. This seems to us to put the White Paper at odds with wider government policies for inclusion, and we would have liked to see a clear and unambiguous commitment to the need for high standards to make all homes suitable for disabled people and an ageing population.

I should add that we responded to the White Paper through Civic Voice, the national umbrella group for civic societies; our response was drafted by our planning sub-committee and approved by the Society’s Executive.

You will, of course, have other pressing matters to deal with at this challenging time; I hope that you can regard our response as critical but constructive.