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What is 'beautiful' should not be defined by national Government policy, say Mid Suffolk and Babergh councillors

National Government policy should not define what is ‘beautiful’.

That's the view of Mid Suffolk district councillors, along with Babergh councillors, who say they are united in their response to the Government’s Planning for the Future consultation.

Last month, councillors voted through a cross-party response to a Government consultation on short term planning changes, which raised "serious concerns" about their affect on rural communities, threats to Areas of Outstanding natural beauty and affordable housing.

Endeavour House, Ipswich
Endeavour House, Ipswich

A second paper on long-term changes has now been assessed by all parties, and planning officers, who "insist" that proposals must not be at the ‘detriment of local communities and should not lose focus on the challenges facing rural districts’.

The national planning rethink aims to modernise and simplify the current planning system and ‘get Britain building’.

Included in the suggested overhaul are changes to the way local housing plans are developed and an agreement to shorten the current timescale for this, which on average takes around seven years, to two-and-a-half years.

It also aims to foster the use of 'planning algorithms' for housing and online public engagement for decision making.

Although both councils are in agreement that COVID-19 has highlighted the need for a flexible planning system, which can quickly adapt to changing economic circumstances, they say "this must not be at the expense of local communities and should carefully manage future growth in our rural areas".

One aspect on which councillors do not agree is the suggestion that planning will be ‘fast tracked’ for beautiful buildings.

In a joint statement, they say:

Given the varied landscape in England, where one road can be totally different in character to the next, it is not felt that something as subjective as beauty should be decided on by national Government policy.

"A similar viewpoint applies to plans for local design guidance to be established, with a textbook approach and allowing approval through permitted development potentially putting both districts at risk of generic, ill thought-out and poor quality development."

Cllr David Burn, Mid Suffolk’s member for planning said: “Mid Suffolk District Council wants to ensure that the right homes are built in the right places and the government’s proposals do not wholly support this ambition. While a flexible planning system is welcome, a one size fits all textbook approach is not.

“I would like to thank my fellow councillors from all political parties, and the officers who have supported us, for the extensive time spent examining the proposed changes and preparing a response to this. I would now urge residents and local groups to join us in responding directly to the consultation before a final decision is made.

“These cross-party meetings have also enabled us to identify our future priorities for planning in our districts, which include well-designed new homes to meet the identified needs of our population, environment and biodiversity mitigation measures, and development that supports the local economy while delivering better local infrastructure.”

Councillor Clive Arthey, Babergh District Council’s cabinet member for planning, said: "Our councils agree with the aim of the Government’s proposed planning system overhaul in principle, as we recognise the requirement to get the country building again to provide homes and employment in our districts at a time when this is needed more than ever.

“We do share serious concerns about the delivery of a simplified system, with our consultation response reflecting that this must not be at the detriment of our communities, rural landscape and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty."

Both councils will discuss the final version of the Joint Local Plan, clarifying how the councils propose to meet Government housing targets and detailing how and where development should take place, later this month.

Political parties across both councils have previously acknowledged the need to finalise the plan promptly, with changes to national planning policies, including local plans, potentially arising following the Government’s recent planning consultations.

Cllr David Burn, said: “We know how important housing growth and its significant impact on infrastructure are to our communities, and this plan reflects the feedback previously received from local residents and businesses.

“Although we cannot control housing targets set by Government, we can work with our communities to influence where development is located, supporting our ambition for Mid Suffolk to be somewhere that people are proud to call home.

Cllr Clive Arthey, said: “We are building communities, not just homes, and this plan will help further our council’s ambition to guarantee bright and healthy futures for all our residents."

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