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Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service responds to the Planning for the Future Whitepaper

The Planning Service covering Greater Cambridge has called for as much community involvement as possible in its formal response to the Government’s recent ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation - which proposes major reforms to national planning rules.

Read the Councils’ full response.

Following scrutiny by Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Council Councillors at their respective Planning, Cabinet and Executive Committees, the joint response submitted on behalf of both Councils emphasised that:

Community involvement in planning

  • The Councils are very concerned about the potential impact on community involvement and engagement in the planning process, including the impact on the democratic process.
  • Greater Cambridge has taken a strong approach to community engagement in preparation of the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan. There would appear to be less engagement opportunities through the proposed new system. The time period set aside for engagement is extremely short. There would be fewer opportunities to work with the community to develop a spatial vision for the area. Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council are also concerned about the capacity of Local Authorities to implement and resource the proposals in the short time scales proposed
  • The White Paper suggests bringing forward codes that consider empirical evidence of what is popular and characteristic in the local area. The term ‘popular’ is highly subjective, designed by democratic vote and does not always provide the right results. Leadership and developing consensus is key in providing a design response that responds to the existing character/context.
  • As an example, the proposal that new settlements would be approved through the Development Consent Order process and not local engagement, would not maintain local engagement and decision-making.
  • The Councils feel that Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the new planning system, and there is a lack of clarity.
  • The Councils also stated that the public should retain the opportunity to comment on planning applications as they do currently.

Digital planning

  • There is positivity around the proposed increased use of digital approaches to the planning process, which the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service has heavily utilised during the recent Local Plan and North East Cambridge consultations and further built on during the pandemic. The Councils think that Greater Cambridge can be a pathfinder for digital planning, building on the team’s experience.
  • The Councils strongly support that planning applications and documentation should be full accessible, machine readable and submitted in open data formats, and that national digital standards should be applied to improve inter-operability between local authority areas.
  • The Council’s response said: “Digital tools should provide opportunities for additional public engagement not less. Support will be needed for local communities, parish councils and residents associations to ensure they are able to take part in such a streamlined and digital process…Without support many communities are unlikely to have the skills in the community to create digital plans and design codes.”
  • The Council also stated that digital information should not exclude those who do not have access to the internet, and this will require resource to support both digital and non-digital approaches.
  • Concerns were expressed that the aspiration to speed up plan-making, was contradicted by the proposals to, in effect, undertake high level masterplanning as part of the plan-making process, which would have “significant resource and cost implications for local authorities as some of the work that is currently done by developers would fall to local authorities”

Other issues raised

  • The Councils raised concerns about whether the proposed statutory ‘sustainable development’ test would be effective in addressing climate change and meeting net zero carbon by 2050, as the government is now required to do by law.
  • Design should not simply equate to aesthetics or function, but also whether a build is fit for purpose in helping to address the Climate Emergency through the use of new methods, and materials for homebuilding and appropriate to site.
  • Concerns were expressed about the idea of being able to define ‘proven popular designs’ and ‘fast tracking’ them through the planning system. The councils’ response stated that “A fast track should focus on responding to climate change, and supporting nature.”
  • Regarding the proposals for setting general development management policies at national rather than local level, the Councils have significant concerns as to whether national policies will adequately reflect local differences and circumstances, or allow area specific issues to be considered by Local Planning Authorities.
  • The capacity of Local Authorities to implement and resource the proposals in the short time scales proposed also causes concern.
  • Greater Cambridge has a significant stock of sites with planning permission. The Councils feel it is incorrect to see the planning system as the primary constraint to delivery. There should be much greater focus in these proposals on ensuring delivery or assisting sites to be delivered, working with developers as well as local authorities. In addition, alternative delivery methods should be explored.
  • The Councils raised serious concerns with the proposals to change the way that developers contribute to the costs of new infrastructure and public services, which, in their view, would transfer significant risk onto Local Authorities rather than developers. The response also raised the risk that the new proposals would mean local communities would be ‘cut out of the process’ and would no longer be able to shape decisions about how local infrastructure is provided.

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