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Government changes to planning system ‘could harm key towns, villages and communities’ in Mid Suffolk and Babergh, say councillors

Proposed changes to the way in which housing is planned and delivered have been met with 'serious concern' by councillors.

Mid Suffolk District councillors have voted unanimously in favour of a 12-page response to the Changes in National Planning Consultation last week. The response had been drawn up jointly, and cross-party, with Babergh District who also voted it through.

They fear the proposed changes to the planning system, which the Government has now put out to consultation, could threaten key towns, villages and areas of ‘natural beauty’, be undeliverable and mean a loss of affordable homes.

Endeavour House, Ipswich
Endeavour House, Ipswich

The Government recently published two consultation papers outlining major changes in planning. One sets out proposals for a completely new national planning system. The other suggests shorter-term amendments.

This includes changes in the method for assessing local housing need, based on an algorithm, and proposals to remove the cap on increases to housing targets.

The two councils say, as a result, the districts’ key towns, villages, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, would be under pressure to deliver more homes.

Proposals also suggest increasing the small sites threshold, below which developers are not required to contribute to affordable housing, from 10 to 40 or 50 homes.

The councils estimate this could almost halve the number of affordable homes built in Mid Suffolk and Babergh, and would ‘impact greatly on ability to provide accommodation for those on the housing register, at a time when there may be potential increased need due to financial difficulties resulting from Covid-19’.

A third proposed change, the introduction of First Homes, could also significantly reduce the number of affordable homes in the districts, according to the councils.

This would mean the shared ownership scheme would be redundant with no guarantee the First Homes scheme, will offer the 50 per cent discount for buyers.

Houses built under the First Homes scheme are also set to be exempt from Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), collected from developers to ensure local infrastructure keeps pace.

Since the start of the year £5million of CIL funding has been allocated to local projects in Babergh and Mid Suffolk, including over £2.5million for school improvements.

The same cross-party group of councillors will submit a response to the Government’s longer-term overhaul of the planning system following further discussion.

Councillor David Burn, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for planning, said: “These proposals do not support our ambition for people to be proud to call our communities home, or the work on our Joint Local Plan to provide clarity and reassurance about when and where required new homes will be built.

“We do not believe that these changes will address delays in housing delivery. However, they will have a detrimental effect on affordable housing, homes for those struggling to get on the property ladder, and funding for local projects.

“I welcome the cross-party discussions with my fellow councillors – and I hope that our response, along with the views of Mid Suffolk residents who participate in the consultation, are listened to by central government.”

Councillor Clive Arthey, Babergh District Council’s cabinet member for planning, said: “All councillors share serious concerns about the government’s proposals, which go against our councils’ commitment to ensuring that the right types of homes are built in the right places.

“The suggested changes are unrealistic and could see our district’s current housing target of 416 new homes per year almost double – impacting our communities, our infrastructure and our rural landscape.

“Development is incredibly important to us all and I would urge residents and local groups to respond directly to the consultation before a final decision is made.”

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