Welwyn Hatfield Lib Dem councillors’ fears over Coalition Government’s planning reform plan

PUBLISHED: 18:44 19 September 2011 | UPDATED: 18:54 19 September 2011

Cllr Malcolm Cowan

Cllr Malcolm Cowan


“CATASTROPHIC” planning regulation reforms have come under fire from the Lib Dems on Welwyn Hatfield Council.

They say the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which aims to slash planning legislation from more thousands to just 54 pages, would leave communities like Welwyn Hatfield at the mercy of developers.

Cllrs Malcolm Cowan and Tony Skottowe tabled a motion against the scheme, despite their fellow Lib Dems being part of the Coalition Government which devised it, at a full council meeting on Monday last week.

Cllr Cowan said the plan, with its “presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’” without, he said, defining the term, could lead to thousands of homes being built in Welwyn Hatfield, with planning regulations relaxed.

The document states how planning authorities should “plan positively for new development, and approve all individual proposals wherever possible”.

Cllr Cowan said the scheme had also been opposed by the National Trust, and added: “Those of us who opposed 15,000 homes should oppose this, as it’s just the same.”

Cllr Skottowe said the framework’s lack of clarity, or as he put it “what it leaves out”, would lead to “a lawyer’s benefit feast” if local authorities decided to boot out plans by developers.

“It will lead to challenges that are legion,” he added.

On rebelling against his Parliamentary party, Cllr Skottowe said: “I’m perfectly happy to criticise the Coalition Government when I think it has got it wrong.”

Despite their impassioned pleas, and support from Labour members, the motion was overwhelming rejected by the ruling Conservatives.

After the meeting Cllr Cowan told the WHT: “I’m very disappointed.”

He added: “This is wrong, in the same way that the 15,000 homes were wrong.”

Welwyn Hatfield MP and housing minister Grant Shapps said: “I believe that there are many misconceptions currently being floated about the National Planning Policy Framework.

“At its heart this is an attempt to take 6,000 pages of planning law and guidance, much of it confused contradictory and bureaucratic, and boil it down into a document which is currently in draft of just 54 pages.”

He added: “The previous government’s approach was to hand down targets all over the country.

“And Welwyn Hatfield was told to build 15,000 homes.

“Under our approach we are allowing local areas to assess and decide how many homes would be appropriate given the legitimate aspirations of local people.”

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