GOVERNMENT plans to streamline the planning process for developers risks “worsening housing standards” in the district, a senior councillor has warned.

Leeds City Council’s executive member for sustainable development, Lisa Mulherin, described the plans as giving developers “automatic planning permission”, and warned that they could reduce the ability of local councillors deciding what is best for their areas.

Leeds City Council’s opposition Conservatives group leader Coun Andrew Carter welcomed the commitment to cut red tape but warned that local communities must have a say in the process and that politicians needed the powers to stand up to larger developers.

Plans announced this week by the government to reform the planning system were put forward today by housing minister Robert Jenrick in the Planning for the Future White Paper.

The new process would, it is claimed, allow quicker development on land which has been designated “for renewal”, with a “permission in principle” approach that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said will balance the need for proper checks with a speedier way of working.

But some have criticised the plans, with concerns raised around whether this will lead to fewer powers for local authorities to decide what should be built and where.

Coun Mulherin said: “The government’s proposed changes to the planning system, and in particular the idea to effectively give developers automatic planning permission, is a very worrying move indeed.

“We have seen many independent voices express their concern about the proposals already, and it does appear the government wants to bring in some form of developer’s charter.

“They want to reduce the ability of local people and their councillors to challenge unsuitable developments, reducing local accountability and risking a worsening of housing standards. It threatens the future prospects of affordable housing being built at a time when the inequalities in our country are being shown up in their starkest way through the Covid19 crisis.

“The government’s rationale for change is flawed as it claims there is a need to remove red tape in the planning system, however as the Local Government Association has pointed out, nine out of ten planning applications are approved by councils under the current system.

“The real problem is the million plus homes that have been granted planning permission which developers have failed to build across the country over the last decade and the lack of powers to require landowners and developers to deliver them.

“Overall the government’s reforms seem to be designed to reduce the input of local people in the planning process, and that is a very backward step for local communities especially those with the least resources, our environment and local democracy.”

According to the plans from the MCHLG, land would be split into three separate categories.

“Land suitable for growth” would be approved for development at the same time that plans are prepared, meaning new homes, schools, shops and business space can be built quickly as long as local design standards are met.

“Renewal areas” will enable even quicker development where it is “well-designed in a way which reflects community preferences”.

Development on Green Belt land will continue to be restricted with policy remaining a decision for local authorities as they prepare their plans.

Leader of Leeds Council’s Conservatives group Andrew Carter offered support for the scheme, but warned local communities needed a say in what is built on their doorsteps.

“We have always said that we support the need to build more housing,” he said. “But any new development needs to be the right type and built in the right places.

“I welcome the intention to retain protections for our valued green belt and green spaces whilst encouraging more building on brownfield land. The ambition for all new streets to be tree lined is something we have argued for in Leeds, and the intention to increase the amount of green space in our communities is also to be welcomed.

“But any attempts to streamline the planning process and cut red tape must ensure that local communities still have ample opportunity to comment on and influence proposals for development in their areas.

“I really hope that this isn’t going to be another missed opportunity. Every government, from Tony Blair to Theresa May, have failed to break up the housing oligopoly whereby 10 large builders land-bank, starve smaller builders of opportunity, and put a strangle-hold on housing supply. There are currently 1,000,000 housing units with planning permission remaining unbuilt; 70 percent of them in the hands of the big 10 housebuilders.

“They should be forced into building out these sites. I hope this government has the guts to take on the big speculative housebuilders.”

Leader of Leeds City Council’s Liberal Democrats group Coun Stewart Golton tweeted: “The government that told us Brexit would free us from unelected bureaucrats overruling decisions made here to ‘unleash Britain’s potential’, now gives powers to housing developers to build what they like without the oversight of elected councillors.”

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Bradford Council’s executive member for regeneration, planning and transport, also expressed concern.

He said: “We understand that the Government wants to accelerate growth, so do we. But relaxing planning applications so that local people have less say is solving a problem that doesn’t exist.

“It’s not planning laws and consultation that slows down development, it’s land assembly and financing.

"If Government funds the viability gap on brownfield developments they will find that many development opportunities will be unlocked on unused brownfield land across the district.

"There are many sites with planning permission that remain undeveloped just because they are financially unviable to build on.”