Wrong reforms proposed for planning

1 Nov 2020: Democracy down; developer profits up; free gift of rights to landowners; few silver linings. Consultations have closed on the government’s proposals for changes to the planning system in England with very strong criticisms being made by community groups and others. Just Space groups have declined to answer the government’s leading questions and instead present refreshing insights on what’s wrong and what’s needed:

  • More transparency and more democracy, not just a little bit corralled around plan-making every few years; welcome to the potential widening of participation brought by technology but don’t scrap old forms of communication and meeting and deal seriously with class bias and digital exclusion.
  • More certainty about key policies (like social housing obligations, space standards, safety) not more deregulation and more exemptions;
  • More pressure on local authorities and government to meet measured needs for social housing, not just aim for maximum total housing outputs for the market;
  • More emphasis on housing as a human need and right, a stabilisation of house and land prices to reduce speculation in housing as financial assets. Expand commons and collective ownership and management of urban space; don’t just hand the entitlement to develop back to private interests;
  • Give some real, precise, meaning to “sustainable development” so everyone can check that developments and plans actually help with environmental crisis, social inequality, social cohesion and a robust economy for well-being, not just “viability” aka profit.

Read the Just Space response to government (8 pages)
Read the very similar version submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee (7 pages)
Just Space also sent a response to the earlier consultation on Changes to the Current Planning System

Submissions by Just Space groups

London Tenants Federation response to government consultation;
and response to parliamentary committee

London Gypsies and Travellers response

London Forum of Civic and Amenity Societies response to government consultation; the same paper was sent to parliamentary committee. The Forum also responded to the earlier consultation on Changes to the Current Planning System.

Friends of the Earth and their response to the Parliamentary Select Committee is now on the Committee web site.

Regents Network response

Submissions by other organisations

(Please add more in the comments at the bottom so we can list them – there is no publication or index of the responses to government, though submissions to the parliamentary select committee are published on their web site.)

The Right Answers to the Right Questions, (publication Monday 2 November) a submission by a group of progressive planners in universities who had produced The Wrong Answers to the Wrong Questions when the White Paper first appeared.

Highbury Group on Housing Delivery

Staff at The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL, short and full versions of response to government.

Haringey Defend Council Housing responds to the Parliament Select Committee

Civic Voice formerly known as the Civic Trust

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)

Homebuilders Federation (HBF)

ACRE Action with Communities in Rural England short article and archived full submission.

Royal Town Planning Institute response to government, short and full versions.
Planning Officers Society

Architectural Workers (SAW) open letter (UVW-SAW)

Architects Declare…

Wider South East Strategic Planning Group

London Councils – the association of London Borough Councils

A Response from chartered planners in academic practice. No URL found so archived copy here.

Distinguished professionals’ letter to the Financial Times 5 November 2020 https://on.ft.com/36e0hrs

Distinguished professionals’ letter to the Financial Times 5 November 2020 https://on.ft.com/36e0hrs

Staff at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Sheffield University, short summary and full statement

National Parks England and New Forest National Park Authority

CPRE Council for the Protection of Rural England

PricedOut submission.

SmartGrowthUK submissions in parts

Sound Diplomacy, in partnership with the Music Venue Trust, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, Studiomakers, Night Time Industries Association and the Creative Land Trust, argue that while reform is welcome, the White Paper does not address significant issues related to the impact of the planning system on cultural spaces and venues…

Kensington Society

Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) with TCPA

LSE London blogs and responses

Blogger Andrew Lainton designs the entire system in an open letter to the new arChief Planner.

Barrister blogger Zac Simons #planoraks (and he has compiled a list of links to responses, with some overlaps with this list but some other items. Nice that we figure in his list).

Nick Falk t(URBED)B

Local Government Association (LGA)

Barton Willmore, planning consultants, summary and full text

Federation of Cambridge Residents Association

Centre for London 100% support the government. Blog post by Anthony Breach (who might as well have written the White Paper) with links to the Centre’s full responses.


New London Architecture (NLA) https://nla.london/news/nla-responds-to-governments-planning-white-paper-on-implications-for-greater-london


Open Space Society https://mk0ossociety9jn92eye.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Response-to-Planning-White-Paper.pdf

Our previous blog post includes earlier material among which are responses to the consultation on Changes to the Current Planning System.

New Planning System?

August 10 + later updates through October: The UK government is preparing a number of major changes to the Town and Country Planning System in England (not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland where devolved bodies make these decisions). We shall add material to this page in the coming weeks to help member groups in London to prepare responses, so this is a good post to bookmark: click on the heading above first. Please do contribute.
A number of consultations are finished and have been moved to the bottom of the page. This is the big one remaining:

Planning for the Future: white paper Consultation ends 29 October 2020 2345h.

This is the Just Space response to the consultation, submitted on 28th October.

Deadline is close. All members / groups are urged to submit comments – brief or detailed – to the consultation page linked above at white paper.

Just Space briefing on the white paper, download PDF: https://justspacelondon.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/planning-for-the-future-white-paper-js-briefing-21-sept.pdf

Paper by volunteer Jo Pearce on the zoning aspect of the White Paper, citing some international experience. Download PDF.

Final submissions now coming in.
Bartlett School of Planning: 19 academics critical of the White Paper but finding some potential positivesl. Short summary + 500 word version + 22,000 word full version.

Our summary of the White Paper:
Proposes major long-term changes to the 1947 system: Government would define 3 simple zones, local plans would be much simplified, identifying which land should be zoned for growth (new building), which for protection (Green Belts, Conllservation Areas, etc) and which for renewal. Owners of land would have an entitlement to develop any uses provided that their project conformed to the rules of the zone except in protection areas where the old system would continue. Local authorities would have no power to stop conforming developments, only to check they conform to design rules (not yet formulated). Much is written about the design rules (mostly about ‘beauty’), though not about transport, accessibility or safety. These changes would focus all community participation at the local plan making stage and prevent it at the planning permission stage (except perhaps for some design details).

The white paper also proposes to sweep away Section106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy, replacing them both with a single new Levy designed to pay for (some) infrastructure and ‘affordable’ housing. Social housing is not mentioned, nor is council housing, but the 30% discounts which developers will be required to give to first-time-buyers would count towards payment of the levy. The Levy would be fixed by national government at a fixed % of development value (or perhaps regionally varied rates). Small schemes would be exempt; so would all developments in ‘low value’ parts of England.

In the coming weeks there will be much debate about these proposals, indeed it has already started in newspapers, online and among campaign groups. The tag #PlanningReform is being used on Twitter.

Some of the country’s leading university experts on planning have got together to write an initial critique, The wrong answers to the wrong questions: Countering the misconceptions driving the Government’s planning reform agenda. Publication is being hosted by the TCPA. Blog and Report here.
23 October: another (overlapping) group of professional planning experts blogs very critically about the White Paper.
24 October: Lawyer Simon Ricketts summarises what he has learned from endless webinars since the White Paper appeared in August. Confirms many worst fears.
26 October: draft submission by London Forum. Very well worth reading.
Duncan Bowie talk to LTF meeting. Strongly recommended
The planning lawyer Simon Ricketts has written to point out that the white paper authors haven’t thought about London or the London Plan.
Dr Laurie Macfarlane (UCL) writes in OpenDemocracy
Dr Ben Clifford writes in The Conversation
Good history of S106 – Crook, Whitehead etc evidence to parliamentary committee 2018
CPRE video 9 minutes about the white paper. Recommended
An Oxford community/environment group (POETS) response: https://t.co/rzHeIZF4zu?amp=1
Royal Town Planning Institute RTPI paper on zoning in various countries.
Review by Julia Park in Building Design (register, but free)

Early changes to the existing planning system: download

A modification to the present planning system is being proposed, in a consultation on 4 changes, closed 1 October.

Just Space response to changes to the current planning system. Do use this as raw material for your own submission – due by 11.45pm Thursday 1 October. Submission instructions are on the download page of gov.uk in the heading above.

Download Just Space earlier briefing on this consultation, including a draft response to assist community groups in London: https://justspacelondon.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/js-briefing-changes-to-current-system.pdf

In a nutshell: A revision is proposed to the Standard Method by which housing need is calculated for localities. This is of limited immediate importance for London but highlights the political challenge facing government and the need for proper regional planning.

Government proposals for ‘First Homes’ (homes to buy at 30% off) to be a quarter of the ‘affordable’ housing in any S106 agreement. This will be an attack on the production of affordable rent tenures and a boost for developer profits.

A proposal to raise the threshold below which housing schemes are not required to contribute a % of affordable homes from 10 homes to 40 or 50 would produce big losses of affordable homes and another profit boost for site owners.

Just Space has clear and long-standing policies which mean that we should oppose both of these proposed changes.  

A third proposed change would extend Permission in Principle to larger schemes but we don’t think this is an issue in London and we have never taken a view about it. However, where such sites are being considered for development, uses of density and (separately) height MUST be scrutinised carefully so Outline Planning Permission should be used instead.

Submission by the London Tenants Federation
Submission from the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies
Here an outstandingly good short critique of the new formula by Rosie Pearson
Submission by Civic Voice (previously the Civic Trust
Kensington Society Submission

…”key worker” housing in London. The Mayor of London says that ‘intermediate’ housing in London will be targeted at ‘key workers’ but the London Tenants Federation points out that most couldn’t afford anything more expensive than council rents. Their interim response is here.

Pavement parking: government consultation on whether to change the law in favour of pedestrians, disabled people, buggies. Deadline 22 November https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/managing-pavement-parking

Just Space activity July 2020 update

We last published a digest of all the activity of JustSpace in late September 2019 [ Link ]. This update shows funding sources, who leads from Just Space and which other Member groups and others are involved.

Council estates website

The website Estate Watch : a resource for London’s communities undergoing estate regeneration launched on 17 June 2020. 

 Jointly produced by London Tenants Federation and Just Space, this took 3 months to prepare. Two workers were hired and there were regular meetings.  The site disseminates the results of a 3 year research project led by Loretta Lees at Leicester University, and with LTF and JS as partners.  The plan had been to hold a series of sub-regional meetings, reaching out to affected estates, but this wasn’t possible because of Covid-19.

The research project held an event at City Hall in March at which Just Space spoke, just before lockdown.

Funds have been obtained to support the maintenance and up-dating of the website for the remainder of 2020, but more funds are needed for 2021.

Funding: University of Leicester (ESRC)

Lead for Just Space: Richard Lee

Freelance inputs from Santa Pedone and Adrian Glasspool

Partner: LTF

Fairville international exchange

Considerable liaison work with UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) and international partners took place in March and April 2020 to produce a major 4-year funding bid to the EU on citizen science and the just city.  A decision is due in the autumn and, in any case, the partners want to work together on other applications.  Projects include documenting the Just Space story (with interviews), a study of facilitation as it operates in community groups and University engagement with communities and resources for a comprehensive social impact assessment in London.

No funding (but potential funding in 2021).

Lead: Richard Lee

Partner: Barbara Lipietz, Development Planning Unit, UCL

Collaborate! – (Previously known as Universities – Communities Knowledge Exchange)

This funded project ended in December 2019. [Download most recent report ] Time has since been devoted to completing its outcomes – a video film and strategic action plan with a draft Charter of Principles to follow.  Discussion is taking place with the Community and University steering groups to decide which of the actions can be taken forward this year and whether/ how Collaborate can incorporate to position itself for funding bids.

Funding:  small amount remains from 2019 grant (UCL)

Lead: Richard Lee

Freelance input from: Sona Mahtani

Partners: Sarah Bell, UCL Engineering Exchange, UEL, QMU, KCL, Brunel, HEAR Equality, Westway23, Bengali East End Heritage Society, Community Centred Knowledge, Hayes Community Forum, Wards Corner Community Coalition, Thames Ward Community Project, Peckham Vision.

Note: UCL Engineering Exchange has paused its innovative formal organising of specialist support to community groups until continued funding can be found. JS would continue to play a role in its operation.   

Social Impact Assessments (SIA)

The UCL Development Planning Unit (DPU) Masters course, which is co-produced with Just Space, has produced 3 handbooks (with Old Kent Road groups, Bengali East End Heritage Society and Camden Council) on how to do a social audit (SA).  A meeting has been held with Camden Council planning department to discuss mechanisms to integrate SIAs into their planning practice.  The relationship with Camden followed on from the Calthorpe Community Garden SIA.  There has been no activity with Calthorpe Community Garden since August 2019.  The SIA there was funded by UCL Estates and led by Richard Lee with freelancers Sona Mahtani and Karl Murray.

Inspired by social impact assessments, one DPU student is producing a report for community groups on how to use the Aarhus Convention to achieve stronger rights to information and participation.

Funding: UCL DPU 

Lead:  Richard Lee

Partners:  As above

Safeguarding the public voice in planning in the Covid era (planning network)

Lucy Rogers brought together London Forum, Friends of the Earth, CPRE with Just Space to publish a joint statement with 6 principles for a democratic input into planning decisions under exceptional regulations for Covid19.  This initiative has gained national attention.  London Forum has produced monitoring reports on the practices of London Boroughs under Covid.  A meeting has been held with Government officials. [Links to earlier blog posts.]

Not funded

Lead: Lucy Rogers.   Partners:  as above

Mayoral Statement of Community Involvement (MSCI) Planning network

Originally, a New London Architecture project, it is now a coming together of various individuals active in the built environment discussing the changes needed to ensure communities are at the heart of urban change for the better. These include Just Space members Hayes Community Forum and Peckham Vision. 

Two particular outputs are planned: a Mayoral Statement of Community Involvement (MSCI) that sets a strategic expectation for standards of effective and meaningful community involvement, and the provision of collaborative education and training programmes for both the public and professionals to help shape their city. Recognising that wider attention and support must first be secured, the group is to make a call to decision-makers for Collective Community Action that prepares the ground for the practical outputs of MSCI and education programme would follow later. This project is voluntarily supported.

Lead for Just Space: Robin Brown. Partner: Peckham Vision

Emerging new London Plan

At its meeting in January 2020, the Just Space Planning Network agreed to set up a working party to continue to conduct a thorough review of the treatment of equalities in the plan-making, examination and pre-publication processes of the emerging new London Plan. It authorised the seeking of legal advice and a QC was engaged on favourable terms from Just Space monetary reserves to give legal advice. But because of the remedial work the Mayor had been required to do by the Examination Panel of Inspectors, largely driven by the representations made by Just Space, it has been concluded that enough had been done by the GLA to satisfy the Panel and legislation on the Equalities Impact Assessment and the exercise of the Public Sector Equality Duty up to and including the Panel’s report. 

Members of Just Space remain concerned on the thrust and detail of the Plan (now the Intend-to-Publish Plan) and the Directions issued by the Secretary of State and some have made representations to the Mayor and London Assembly. The debate is continuing and the GLA is anyway not expecting to publish the new plan for at least two months after the Secretary of State replies to a letter from the Mayor written in April 2020.

Policy ideas and narratives arising from Covid-19 (Planning network / Collaborate)

Several people have come to Just Space offering volunteer work.  This has enabled the commissioning of a series of discussion papers giving new policy ideas. Next steps are being considered.

Not funded

Lead: Richard Lee

Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum

Just Space (with support from LTF) has continued to assist the GCNF.  A very good result was achieved with the examination of the LLDC Local Plan: the Inspector fully backing the residents’ wishes to retain their community and avoid demolition and dense development.  However, alongside this the examination of the neighbourhood plan recommended the deletion of essential policies opposing demolition and identifying housing sites that would provide sensitive infill.

Funding: Locality (central Government money)

Lead: Richard Lee                  

Freelance inputs from: Marian Larragy

Partner: LTF

New Lucas Plan/ Climate Change Strategy/ Industrial Strategy

Discussions and a zoom meeting on socially useful production applied to the current crisis.  The main aim is to connect the agenda of community groups with trade unions and social movements.

Spoke at event in Coventry (14 March) on how to involve grassroots groups in the production of an alternative Climate Change Strategy for the city.

No funding in 2020

Lead: Richard Lee

Funding in 2021 from Sarah Bell UCL Eng Exchange and Myfanwy Taylor, Leeds University

Land Justice policy group

Considerable work had been done to prepare for an event Land and the Ecological Crisis  on 28 March, which had to be cancelled.  Planning meetings resumed in June and a series of 3 events will begin in Summer 2020. See events page. [ Earlier Post ]

Not funded (but the group has resources)

Lead: Richard Lee

Partners: Radical Housing Network, StART, Granville Community Kitchen 

Grand Union Alliance (GUA)

JS was commissioned back in Spring 2016 by the London Tenants Federation (LTF) to help LTF deliver UCL community-based research supporting the community network GUA in Old Oak Park Royal area (Mayoral Development Corporation OPDC). Although due to end in Spring 2018 when LTF’s involvement ended, the £15K received was stretched to February 2019 and has assisted London Plan work (on Opportunity Areas). Further support to GUA, particularly during the OPDC’s Local Plan EiP, was provided through an agreement worth £1.6K with UCL Geography. Since then, July 2019 onwards, JS inputs have continued voluntarily on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis whilst the OPDC prepares a ‘new approach’ to its draft Local Plan and delivery process following the Planning Inspector’s Interim Findings in September 2019 requiring substantial changes to the Plan.

Prior to ‘lockdown’, regular monthly public meetings continued in partnership with the Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum, whose reports can be seen at its website. Co-operation has extended to responding to the OPDC and HS2 and various planning applications.     

On looking for resources to sustain GUA, the OPDC has asked the GUA to make a proposal to OPDC to facilitate an OPDC-GUA continuing ‘dialogue’.  This could provide funds to hire a support worker plus ‘buying in’ of advice from JS but issues of independence need consideration. UCL Geography has awarded £2K towards the production of a Community Handbook on influencing large scale planning as informed by GUA experiences. For the forseeable future, JS would be the parent body for the GUA. 

Funding: UCL Geography (Jennifer Robinson)

Lead: Robin Brown

Partner: LTF

London Markets

[See earlier post on this major national research project ]

Funding: Leeds University  (Myfanwy Taylor and Sara Gonzalez)

Lead: Richard Lee

Partners: Saif Osmani (Friends of Queens Market ) and Mama D (Community Centred Knowledge)

Just Space Economy and Planning Group

The group continues to maintain contact and share experience across London, and to attend the Economics Round Table convened by GLA Economics. Not funded, but with some support through UCL academics and students

Leads: Michael Edwards, Ilinca Diaconescu

UCL (Bartlett School of Planning) Neighbourhood Planning & Community Engagement Programme 2019-20

Most of this programme, funded by an award from UCL Bartlett School of Planning, expected to be for the 2019-2020 academic year £6.6K, is intended to give students real life experiences of the issues faced by local communities. One part is delivered through a planning course ‘Collaborative City Planning Strategies’, which attracted 48 students. A Just Space nominated tutor embedded in the course focused on the ‘Future of High Streets’ from a community perspective.  

Another larger part enabled students to be mentored by Just Space and community tutors on a variety of socially useful activities. These included evaluating outputs from the draft London Plan EiP – transcribing and analysing recordings of sessions to inform further Just Space policy positions— and assisting the Grand Union Alliance, Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum, Thames Ward Community Project in Barking Riverside OA and Save Hackney Central Campaign – on various aspects of neighbourhood planning, community organising, and major site development analysis. Some local group costs such as venue hire were also eligible for reimbursement from the UCL grant. 

This programme also enables Just Space to contribute to progressing diverse activities promoting community collaborations with UCL and wider academia.

Funding: UCL Bartlett School of Planning

Lead: Michael Edwards

Reclaim our Spaces

[Earlier post] No activity in 2020 , but links with Collaborate

Not funded      Partner: The Ubele Initiative

Lead: Richard Lee

European Action Coalition for Rights to Housing and the City (EAC)

Just Space were among founders of this network but play a rather minimal role in it now, not much more than sharing links from its web site HousingNotProfit.org on our Twitter and on Pat’s Facebook. Next project to share national / city data and strategies on social housing needs volunteer inputs from London. 

Leads:  Pat Turnbull and Michael Edwards

Just Space web site, Twitter, FaceBook

The web site JustSpace.org.uk mainly supports the London Plan activities of Just Space because other groups choose not to contribute content, though this could change. It has between 700 and 1000 visitors per month. The Twitter account @JustSpace7 has 3,700 followers including many London groups and some international interested people and networks. It is very active and helps London groups and campaigns keep in touch with each other and with policy changes. Facebook, by contrast, was set up for us by a student volunteer and is dormant, awaiting people to run it. 

Leads: Michael Edwards with some inputs from Lucy Rogers

Estate Watch

Demolition or neglect: Are the Mayor of London’s ballots offering tenants a fair choice?


Over 35,000 homes across more than 100 London estates are earmarked for or undergoing demolition according to Estate Watch, a new resource for affected communities.

This despite the Mayor of London’s Estate Regeneration Guidance (2018), which was supposed to give council tenants and leaseholders a better deal.

Launching today, the Estate Watch website has been produced by community organisations Just Space and London Tenants Federation (LTF) to provide tenants and residents with independent facts and resources about the realities of demolition and possible alternatives.

Since 2018, councils and housing associations seeking Mayoral funding for large housing schemes involving demolition of existing homes must obtain majority resident support through a ballot. 

“We’re hearing worrying reports that balloted communities are being offered a false choice: demolition or neglect,” said LTF and Just Space in a joint statement.

“Tenants must be fully informed and have meaningful choices before we get to a ballot. We’ve established Estate Watch in part because of concerns that that is not happening.”

Luise, a leaseholder on Camden’s West Kentish Town estate, which voted in favour of demolition earlier this year, described seeing council officers visiting residents in their homes while the ballot was taking place to ‘help’ them fill in the form. 

“They were upfront that they were pushing for it to be knocked down,” said Luise. “There was nothing impartial about the consultation. They’ve been deliberately and continuously neglecting the estate. We were basically told that if we voted against demolition the estate would be run down even further.” 

According to the Mayor’s Guidance, “when considering the option of demolishing and rebuilding homes, councils, housing associations and their partners should always consider alternative options to demolition first”.

“In our case we had to work really hard over a very long period of time to get the best that we could out of a demolition and rebuild scheme, but there was only ever one option on the table. Refurbishment was simply dismissed.” said Harry, an LTF rep from a Kingston estate, where residents have recently voted for demolition.

The new website provides tenants with key facts, tools and case studies to fight their corner and to try to engage on more equal terms in discussion about the future of their homes and communities. 

This includes research by academics at University of Leicester (UOL) and Kings College London (KCL) showing that long term uncertainty, depression and displacement were common experiences among both tenants and leaseholders undergoing demolition.

“Just Space and LTF have set up Estate Watch because the realities of ‘regeneration’ for resident communities are very different to what’s depicted on council websites and brochures,” said Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester. 

“It comes on the back of my 3-year ESRC research project into gentrification and displacement of council estate tenants and residents. 

“My research identified that 55,000 council homes had been demolished in estate renewal schemes since 1997 and as a rough estimate, about 131,000 tenants and leaseholders were displaced.”


Over the last 3 years, Just Space and The London Tenants Federation have worked with the University of Leicester and King’s College London on a research project that has provided detailed evidence since 1997 of the displacement of London council tenants and leaseholders through regeneration schemes.

As part of this research, 120 in-depth interviews were carried out with tenants and residents on 6 different council estates undergoing regeneration: Aylesbury (Southwark), Gascoigne (Barking and Dagenham), Ocean (Tower Hamlets), Love Lane (Haringey), Pepys (Lewisham) and Carpenters estate (Newham). The interviews showed that many residents were forced out of their neighbourhoods leaving behind that precious network of friends, relatives and neighbours. The research has also shed light on the conditions many residents have been forced to live in – with essential repairs often neglected by the Council for years – and the uncertainty about the future, which created high level of anxiety and stress.

As the research project draws to a close, the EstateWatch website has been developed as a resource for communities on estates facing regeneration, to know their rights and to ensure that tenants’ and residents’ choices will be respected. We want to monitor each scheme as it progresses and make space for residents to add updated information about their estate in real time. This can be a precious tool to hold Councils across London and the Mayor to account and make sure that future regeneration schemes benefit existing local communities.

Boroughs & Covid-19: update

The London Forum of Amenity & Civic Societies —members of Just Space and one of the partners in our campaign to defend democracy & participation during the pandemic— has sent this update, reporting on their survey of London Boroughs by Paul Thornton:

“Following … two Zoom meetings and the many contributions from member societies, we have consolidated the current state of play and our recommendations on best practice in an interim report available on the London Forum website via this link.

In general, the picture is better than we might have imagined. The transfer of Planning online has gone reasonably smoothly, it has had benefits as well as drawbacks, and some of our greatest concerns (greater use of delegated powers, loss of speaking rights at Council committees etc) have either not materialised or been confined to a handful of boroughs. Continue reading

Ministry defensive on virtual meetings

8 May: The Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the ministry responsible for the planning system in England) has responded to the letter from Just Space and a number of bigger and national networks in which we had defended transparent and democratic features of the planning system and called for government action.

The ministry’s reply is mainly defensive, arguing that their priority has been to keep the planning system functioning and to give local authorities the flexibility to innovate in how they do that. [The implication seems to be that it’s up to the council how they proceed; complain to them if you are unhappy.] Continue reading

Don’t let Coronavirus be an excuse for making planning less democratic

A joint statement by Just Space, CPRE London, Friends of the Earth and London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies 

published 27 April, 2020 to be sent to councillors, GLA officers and assembly members and others. Please circulate widely and discuss what we do next.  This was the subject of a segment in BBC Radio 4 The World Tonight on 27th April. Listen here or download as podcast. In news items at start, then report at about 13th minute.

The new Covid19 regulations for Local Authority meetings risk undermining the communitys role in the planning process, as decisions could be made in virtual committees and closed meetings for up to one year. 

The way the planning system operates, like so much else, is going through significant change as a result of the coronavirus. It is vital that the process is not distorted in ways which disadvantage the vital role of community groups in informing local planning decisions.  

While planning has an important role to play in economic recovery, we have found serious dangers in the way in which some councils are changing their decision-making processes, which could result in long-term damage to the interests of local communities and to the environment.

Our rapid review reveals that Councils are interpreting the new rules for virtual meetings in very different ways. Some are re-assembling their planning committees online, while others will make key major planning decisions in closed meetings or increase delegation to unelected planning officers. The ad hoc access to the democratic process creates an unfair postcode lotteryfor local communities. 

Under normal circumstances major planning decisions are made by a vote in open meetings of elected councillors, with speaking rights for applicants and objectors. Fairness and transparency are fundamental to every Local Authoritys constitution and to planning policy. These principles risk being eroded.

We are calling on the Secretary of State and Local Planning Authorities to safeguard the role of local communities in the planning process and ask them to respect six key principles

1.  No planning application normally decided by a committee should be decided using delegated or executive powers. 

2. Virtual meetings should be reliably live streamed on video, with speaking rights for public objectors / third party representatives, as with normal committee meetings. 

3. Councils should produce a report setting out how, under the Covid 19 regulations, they will follow best practice for the involvement of communities, particularly disadvantaged communities and those with less access to technology and broadband.

4. Councils should create, and promote widely, a designated website page giving full information on upcoming meetings and consultations, providing clear guidance to communities and third parties on how to take part.

5. Councils should look to extending deadlines attached to the determination of planning applications and responding to consultations. 

6. Any public referenda or votes associated with Estate Regeneration should be put on hold until there is a reliable, democratic way to vote, as has happened with the referenda for Neighbourhood Plans. 

The role of Government  

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) must do more to recognise the important role of communities in decision-making and to highlight the risks of failing to engage local communities. The input and expertise of communities and third parties can be critical to the creation of better, more resilient developments.  

We are calling on Ministers to temporarily relax or extend deadlines for the determination of planning applications, to take the pressure off councils while they make the necessary changes to their systems, and to provide further guidance to them. 

The pressure to keep the economy moving is not a reason to allow short-term, environmentally-damaging development that we may live to regret. 

27 April 2020

3 June: Lucy Rogers writes in The Planner https://www.theplanner.co.uk/opinion/democracy-shouldnt-suffer-just-because-the-show-must-go-on

See also web site of the London Forum

Download PDF version of this statement – suitable for printing or sending to others: Statement Planning in the Covid Era

Virtual meetings

Because of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) crisis none of our member organisations can hold their meetings and many have been seeking advice on how to switch to online meetings.

In response we are putting together some advice for community organisations, drawing. on Just Space member organisations and a wide network of people across Europe facing the same problems.  It’s in the form of a document which anyone can read, print or edit so please add your own experience where you think that can make it more helpful. In just 24 hours it’s already become worth publishing. It’s at

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More ‘reforms’ for English planning

14 March 2020 The government publishes proposals for changes to planning in England at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/robert-jenrick-plans-for-the-future-to-get-britain-building

Paul Burnham comments: Both this document and the letter to the Mayor (see previous post) share this objective, ‘Everyone should have the chance to save for and buy their own home so they can have a stake in society.’

In other words, home ownership is seen as full citizenship, and to be a renter (or homeless) is to be outside society, and not to be able or willing to share in its progress – or to be concerned about ‘society’ in the same way.

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