Council Leader Criticises Government Planning Reforms

Warns against decisions being taken at national not local level

roofer with hammer

Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia has written to the housing minister urging a rethink for the government’s proposals to reform the planning system.

In a letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Cllr Govindia warns that the reforms may not deliver all the improvements ministers hope to achieve.

He tells the minister, “The proposed changes will significantly alter the current arrangements working to our detriment, we simply cannot envisage how this could work at a national level.” He goes on to say that he believes that the ongoing pandemic makes this the wrong time to introduce such changes and that the borough cannot support the proposals.

The letter follows publication of the council’s formal consultation response to the Government’s White Paper – ‘Planning for the Future’. Wandsworth’s conclusion is that the reforms could lead to an oversimplification of the planning system while also warning against moves to make more planning decisions at a national, not local, level.

The council’s response centres on changes to the way local housing need is assessed and a proposed ‘nationalisation’ of the funds town halls currently levy on developers (CIL & Section 106) to help pay for local infrastructure improvements such as better transport links, new schools, health centres and other local amenities that are needed to cope with increases in resident numbers.

A good example of this is the soon-to-be opened Northern Line extension, paid for by developers in the Nine Elms area that’s bringing tube services to this part of the borough for the first time.

Cllr Govindia writes, “In Wandsworth we have a strong record of successfully delivering the homes that our residents need alongside providing the necessary infrastructure to create places we can be proud of and where residents want to live and work. We agree that the system needs to be improved and simplified in some areas. However, we are concerned that the proposals will over-simplify the planning system, such as the proposed categorisation of land into three areas and the proposed fundamental changes to the Infrastructure Levy, as well as the general attempt to make as many decisions as possible at a national level.

“In Wandsworth the current system has proved very effective: in 2019, 91 per cent of the planning applications submitted were approved, which is amongst the highest in London. The Council has consistently delivered above the targets in its up to date Local Plan and in the adopted London Plan. The Community Infrastructure Levy has enabled the Council to deliver the infrastructure needed to enable sustainable growth with a keen eye to the challenge of Climate change.”

He adds that the focus of the White Paper on ‘beautiful and sustainable’ places should be expanded to ensure that climate change, wildlife and the natural environment are a key feature in a revised system and that objective criteria should be established. He claims that the Wandsworth Design Review Panel has been positively received by developers and has added value.

Cllr Govindia adds, “Considering COVID-19, we need to review how we plan our homes and neighbourhoods. We recognise that health and wellbeing play a crucial role in creating environments that promote and support healthy and active lifestyles and reduce health inequalities. We strongly believe that we need to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, which will enable us to meet other longer-term requirements, including savings to be made in delivering housing, health and social care.

“Both CIL and Section 106 have yielded dividend for Wandsworth borough and are a crucial element of the resource needed to deliver development which residents support as they can see it improves facilities and amenities in their local area. .”

After the dispatch of his letter Cllr Govindia added: “We are calling on the minister to listen to our concerns and modify these proposals in a way that supports high-achieving councils instead of penalising them.”

November 20, 2020