A MAJOR shake-up of the planning system in England will further shift the balance of power into the hands of developers, the chairman of St Helens Borough Council’s planning committee has warned.

Downing Street has promised the most radical reforms since the Second World War, with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick outlining the new system over the weekend.

Mr Jenrick called the current system “outdated and cumbersome”, accusing it of contributing to a generational divide between those who own property and those who don’t.

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He said the Government is introducing a “simpler, faster, people-focused system to deliver the homes and places we need.”

However, Labour councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron believes the new system could remove local decision-makers from having a say entirely.

“Let’s be under no illusion, house building is not a bad thing,” the planning committee chairman said.

“Thousands in the borough are employed in the construction industry, and thousands more are struggling to buy their first home.

“I’ve previously said the national planning system is already skewed in favour of developers with the 'presumption in favour' system, which makes it really difficult to refuse local applications.

“However, these proposals go one step further, and looks to remove that local say entirely.

“The Government have shouted ‘build build build’ and now it’s clear they want to do that by removing local democracy.”

Under the new planning system, which the Government said will be through democratic local agreement, land will be designated in one of three categories: for growth, for renewal or for protection.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Jenrick said: “Land designated for growth will empower development – new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be allowed automatically.

“People can get going.

“Renewal areas will enable much quicker development with a ‘permission in principle’ approach to balance speed while ensuring appropriate checks are carried out.

“And protected land will be just that – our green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty and rich heritage – will be protected as the places, views and landscapes we cherish most and passed on to the next generation as set out in our manifesto.”

St Helens Star: Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local GovernmentRobert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Housing Secretary said the reforms seek a more diverse and competitive housing industry, where smaller builders can “thrive alongside the big players”.

But Cllr Gomez Aspron believes none of the reforms will make it easier for young people to get on the housing ladder.

Cllr Gomez Aspron said: “It’s easy for me to moan about what a Tory Government does, but I think their time would be better spent redefining ‘affordable’ so that young people can get on the property ladder, reversing the cuts to contaminated land remediation grants so that toxic brown field sites that are undeliverable can be developed, and forcing land owners who land bank sites in brownfield to bring them forward.

“None of that is solved by making it easier for rich housing companies to ignore local residents,” he said.

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“I’ll be interested to see how our local opposition parties defend this new Tory policy.”

Cllr Allan Jones, leader of the Conservatives on St Helens Borough Council, said he would like to see the Government’s full proposals before judging on them.

However, Cllr Jones said the Government still seems “keen” to protect the green belt, something he too has taken a strong stance on.

Cllr Jones said: “It seems, and we need to get the absolute details, they are keen to protect the green belt.

“I am also keen to protect he green belt and will continue to fight to that end.”