COUNCILLORS are hoping to block Government plans to allow developers automatic 'initial approval' to build new homes in areas of Taunton and West Somerset.

The ruling LibDems on Somerset West and Taunton Council have drafted a policy to oppose planning reforms that would give the government powers to impose binding house building targets on the district.

The 'top down' proposals would strip councils of their rights to decide how many houses get built and which areas of countryside are developed to accommodate them.

Cllr Sarah Wakefield, who has proposed the motion to be debated at full council on July 27, said: “After years in which government planning policy has too often overridden our local plan, the Conservative government intends to completely take away councillors’ rights to decide how much building will happen - and where - in our district.

"We have to oppose this or the concreting over the countryside will never stop."

Under plans unveiled last summer, local councils in England would have to classify all land in their area as:

  • protected, such as areas of natural beauty, flood risk and green belt, where development would generally remain restricted;
  • for renewal, where councils would have to look favourably on development;
  • or for growth, where applications conforming to local plans would automatically gain initial approval.

The Government backed down last year on a formula that would have seen 16,000 more new houses imposed on Somerset West and Taunton.

But exactly how many will be imposed remains unclear.

Planning rules to date ensure councils plan how many new houses should be built and where.

Cllr Wakefield added: “Local councillors are better placed than central government to protect our precious green spaces from development, places which ministers in Whitehall know nothing about.

"We are determined, for example, that land at Orchard Portman sold to Taylor Wimpey by the Crown Estate should be protected from development and our petition is rapidly gaining signatures.

"These planning reforms would throw the fate of our countryside into the hands of developers."

SWT planning policy portfolio holder Cllr Mike Rigby said “As a council we are making sure our work on our new local plan is as robust as it can be.

"We are very keen to see that planning applications are determined in strict accordance with the local plan.

"The land at Orchard Portman may be owned by developers but isn't in the local plan and, as things stand, there's nothing in the local plan that would suggest there will be large scale housing development on the east side of the motorway.

"But who knows what will result if the Government’s planning algorithm goes though?"

Gideon Amos, the LibDems’ parliamentary spokesperson, said: "It was a Liberal government which first gave local people a say on how and where developers and landowners could build and those rights have remained enshrined in our laws since 1909.

"Johnson’s government likes nothing more than ripping up traditions of fair play and proper control.

"His abolishing of planning controls in this way is par for the course.

"But now more and more people, like us, are standing up against this destruction.

"I’m delighted to see our local LibDem council at the forefront of protecting Taunton’s beautiful environment from Conservative plans to rip up planning controls. The pattern of donations to the Conservative party from the biggest house builders tells its own story."