Conservatives accused of "sitting on their hands" on local planning


Kingston's Conservatives have been accused of "sitting on their hands" after failing to back a motion at last night's Full Council meeting that called for the Government to scrap its proposed changes to the planning system.

Kingston Liberal Democrats brought back a motion on the Conservative's White Paper on Planning, for the second time in less than a year, to help raise residents' awareness of the significant changes being made. Instead, local Conservative Councillors ran scared from standing up for Kingston residents.

Cllr Rebekah Moll, Lib Dem spokesperson for Planning, said, "Last night, Kingston's Conservative Councillors sat on their hands, refusing to stand up for residents across Kingston and to condemn their Government's plans which would completely decimate the suburbs.

"Over the past five years, Kingston Council has approved over 4,620 new homes, but fewer than half have actually been built. The Conservatives' Planning reforms do not solve this problem, and instead further remove local input on developments in our communities."

So why we are bringing a motion about the Conservative Government’s proposed planning reforms back for debate at council, less than a year after our last one?

It is because the Planning White Paper represents a significant threat to our Borough and removes the rights of residents to object to development in their area.

But the vast majority of people are unaware of the harm it will cause, or that the deregulation of the planning system has already started. And they need to know.

So let me flag up some of the Conservative Government’s reforms we think residents need to know about.

Did you know...

  • That existing blocks of flats can increase their height by two storeys without planning permission?
  • Did you know that your neighbours can now add two storeys to their house without needing planning permission?
  • Or that detached buildings that have been vacant for six months can be demolished and rebuilt for housing up to 7 metres taller without planning permission?

All these changes were introduced by the Conservative Government in August 2020 without consultation.

Did you know that changes have already been made to allow shops, business and commercial premises to be converted into residential properties without planning permission? This could see the loss of local shops in our high streets.

There is also now less control over the type of businesses we have in our high streets as they have been given permitted development rights to change their use as they please.

Did you know that public buildings like schools, hospitals, colleges and prisons will now be able to extend their premises by up to 25% without needing planning permission, or residents having any say in the matter?

Under the Conservative Government’s proposed plans we would have to divide the borough into just three broad zones: Growth, Renewal and Protected. And these zones would need to deliver housing numbers set by the Conservative Government.

In areas designated for Growth developers would be automatically granted planning permission. That means no opportunity for local residents to object or comment on the plans.

Now imagine how the borough will look if developers are left to build whatever they please with no checks and balances from the Council’s planners, or comments from residents.

They will build higher, to maximise the profit on each and every site. They will build only residential, as that generates the most profits. They will build lots of one-bedroomed flats because they can squeeze more of these onto a single site and they are more profitable than family sized homes. There will be no exemplar buildings, or award winning designs, just bland, utilitarian units.

Back garden land will be seen as fair game for developers if they fall in a growth or renewal area, as they will argue they need this land to meet the housing numbers we have to achieve.

This will be the end of the suburban character in most of our borough.

Did you know that the proposals will mean that residents will have less opportunity to input on local planning policies because the Conservative Government wants to speed up of the process for preparing a Local Plan?

Did you know that the housing target the Conservative Government proposed for Kingston is over double the current annual target? The borough does not have the number of brownfield sites to deliver these numbers so developers will be eyeing up green spaces with a free hand to build on.

Did you know the requirement to provide affordable housing in any development would only apply to builds of over 40 homes, uplifted from the current 11, meaning less affordable housing will be built?

Did you know that under these plans Areas of Special Local Character will no longer have any relevance to planning decisions?

For those of us who love our suburban Borough, these plans read like a horror story.

It clear that the Prime Minister does indeed want to ‘build, build, build’, but I wonder how much of the proposed developments will impact on him directly, or on areas where his fellow Tory ministers live?

And who are the main beneficiaries of this deregulation of the planning system – developers of course.

The Local Government Association, representing Councils of all political colours, has launched a Keep Planning Local campaign.

That is a campaign we should support, and our motion sets out ways the Conservative Government can return to a more locally-driven approach to Planning.

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