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New Forest NPA concerned by Tories’ major planning reforms

NPA chair Gavin Parker is keen to maintain protections currently afforded to national parks, like the New Forest
NPA chair Gavin Parker is keen to maintain protections currently afforded to national parks, like the New Forest

THE government has promised to ensure the protection of national parks after concerns were raised by the New Forest National Park Authority about the potential impact of radical changes to national planning laws.

NPA chair Gavin Parker wrote to the government pointing out national parks currently have the highest protection possible but there is a “lack of any mention” of them in a new government white paper outlining a possible overhaul of planning laws.

“We would not want to see any of the existing protections given to national parks weakened further,” Prof. Parker responded in a letter, seen by the A&T.

Overall the NPA accepted the current planning system requires reforms, such as a greater emphasis on better designed buildings and simplifying processes.

But Prof. Parker stressed those should not be made at the expense of undermining existing protections in the New Forest.

“We have raised concerns about proposals which would allow more types of development without needing planning permission,” Prof Parker continued.

“We’re also concerned that the proposed changes appear to make it harder for local people to engage with the planning system, both at the strategic plan-making stage and in considering applications for new development.”

In response, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told the A&T: “National parks are our most valued green spaces and we will ensure their protection for future generations.

Professor Gavin Parker
Professor Gavin Parker

“We’re reforming the country’s outdated planning system to make it simpler and faster, placing environmental protection, community engagement and sustainability at the heart of our reforms.”

Prime Minster Boris Johnson has promised to “build, build, build” to provide more homes, and to streamline planning processes to help young families get on the housing ladder.

But in its response to government draft proposals, the NPA took issue with ideas such as basing housing targets on the affordability of certain areas and extent of urban zones.

Those were “overly simplistic”, the NPA said, with the level of affordability “a particularly blunt tool for calculating new housing needs”.

It was also “difficult to see” how a national, centralised system of generating binding housing requirements for local authorities would have “sufficient finesse”, the NPA said.

A national development management policy would unlikely be “sufficiently nuanced and detailed” to work in practice, the NPA said.

It was also not necessary, it added, given the NPA had recently completed an overarching Local Plan setting out its developmental priorities for the next two decades.

The NPA also raised concerns at the government’s proposed 30-month timescale to produce final plans, calling that “unrealistic”.

But it welcomed some ideas, such as more enforcement powers and sanctions to address unauthorised development, as well as higher fines for rule breakers and new ways of

supporting enforcement activity.

Steve Avery, NPA executive director of strategy and planning, said: “We are currently frustrated at the lack of enforcement powers available to us to address damaging developments within the national park. We have also asked for more support for affordable housing in national parks.”

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