As the UK Government’s consultation regarding England’s planning system comes to an end, the Ramblers have urged Ministers to prioritise wellbeing, access to nature and democracy in any future changes.
In August this year, the UK Government announced its latest consultation on England’s planning system through its white paper Planning for the Future. The proposals focus primarily on increasing rates of house building, but some of the changes could have a significant impact on the planning system’s ability to tackle climate change, and to protect the natural environment, rights of way and access to green spaces.
In their response to the consultation, the Ramblers have supported the Government’s aspirations to establish a planning system that delivers beauty, biodiversity, preserves and enhances the natural environment, addresses climate change and boosts local democracy.
However, the Ramblers have also made clear our belief that the changes outlined, coupled with a lack of detail to support many of the aspirations, mean that the government’s ambitions will almost certainly not be achieved by these proposals. In fact, these changes could damage local planning and local democracy.
The Ramblers have a number of concerns with the proposed changes and have outlined these in response to the consultation.
Public health and wellbeing
Any changes to the way we plan, design and build infrastructure must support good public health and wellbeing, by ensuring that all new developments contribute towards the creation of walkable, green places.
The best way to consistently deliver high quality design is to set clear, minimum standards. The Ramblers support the Town and Country Planning Association’s proposal for a Healthy Homes Act which would create a set of enforceable design and quality standards – guaranteeing, for example, that all new homes would be within walkable neighbourhoods and have access to green space. All government departments would be required to abide by these principles when making policy, as would all public authorities that have responsibilities relating to planning and the delivery of housing.
To encourage more people to be physically active by walking, the planning system should also encourage local authorities to plan strategically to create both walking networks and green networks. In particular, more consideration needs to be given to the connectivity of streets, paths and public spaces.
Access to nature
Access to nature is essential for good public health and wellbeing. The Ramblers believe that the planning system should promote the principle that everyone should have access to a high quality green space within 5 minutes’ walk of their home.
The planning system should encourage and support the development of more walking routes in towns and cities to better enable everyone to reach green space for recreation and enjoyment of nature. Furthermore, the public rights of way network and open access land remain key building blocks for leisure walking and for active travel, particularly on the fringes of towns and cities - however these are often overlooked as a way of getting people moving.
Local democracy is a vital element of the planning system. However, the changes would restrict community engagement in planning proposals and could result in members of the public and elected councillors losing their ability to scrutinise individual planning applications. Organisations such as the Ramblers, who have consultee status for public rights of way, may also lose opportunities to comment on proposals that affect rights of way, which underpin the public’s ability to walk in England and to access green spaces.
How the planning white paper could be improved
The Ramblers have urged the government to focus the planning system not just on housing numbers, but more broadly on the delivery of:
- Public health and wellbeing by prioritising the delivery of high-quality walking infrastructure, including green space and routes.
- Access to nature through protecting existing publicly assessible green space and public rights of way from development, including during construction, particularly in areas where opportunities to access nature are currently in short supply.
- Democracy by ensuring democratic accountability and community involvement in local planning.
Alison Hallas, Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Ramblers said: “Whilst there is a clear demand for more homes that people can afford, there is an equally pressing need for a planning system that supports the creation of healthy places to live. There is a wealth of evidence to show that healthy, successful places are those that are designed to encourage walking, are rich in natural features and green space and meet the expressed needs of local communities. We hope the Government will consider our response to the planning white paper and bring forward plans that meet their aspiration of a planning system that delivers beauty, biodiversity, preserves and enhances the natural environment, addresses climate change and boosts local democracy.”