COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have slammed a radical shake-up of the planning system – fearing it will give a green light to developments which will 'scar' the Dorset landscape, writes Marie-Claire Alfonso.

New laws, outlined in the Queen's Speech, aim to speed up and simplify the process of preparing local plans in a bid to create a housebuilding boom. This could override the proposed Dorset Local Plan.

Campaigners see the new moves as a 'dumbing down' of the planning system and fear it will be 'highly damaging' for a county like Dorset which has many protected and sensitive areas. It would also not help to deliver much-needed affordable homes.

The bill to ease planning controls and increase housebuilding was among 30 planned new laws for the year ahead in the Queen's Speech.

In order to fast track development plans the law would expect to reduce the ability of local councils to scrutinise individual planning applications on land approved for development - drawing concern over the loss of the local democratic process.

Dorset Campaign for Rural England (CPRE) said the moves outlined by the Government would radically alter many decades of planning practice, by 'seizing control of the planning system to create an undemocratic system of zoning' often seen in the USA and elsewhere.

These 'zones' would be:

Growth - Land deemed to have automatic outline permission for the principle of development

Renewal - A statutory presumption of development in these areas. Applications for full permission would be fast-tracked if the scheme met certain requirements

Protected areas - Development would require full application in line with the current process, but there would still not be an absolute prohibition of development.

Concerns have been raised as Dorset Council considers the responses to its local plan consultation. The plan has been heavily criticised for proposing far too many homes for the county and not responding to local needs. Around 30,500 new homes are proposed by 2038 - although the council has said the plan is to find land for 39,000 houses.

The largest proposed new housing development in the county would be a controversial 4,000-home scheme on greenfield land north of Dorchester.

Dorset CPRE said the proposed new laws could override the Dorset Local Plan to accommodate government targets.

The group said the new planning laws are worrying and suggested "the creation of crudely drawn planning zones would be highly damaging in a county like Dorset".

Chairman of Dorset CPRE Trustees Peter Bowyer said: “The Prime Minister has called for a levelling up in this country, but these so-called reforms will dumb down our planning system, taking Dorset back to the Planning Dark Ages, with the potential to permit development that would scar the landscape of our beautiful county, do little for the environment and obstruct the provision of affordable housing for local people.

"It is likely that all of those areas outside of designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty become 'growth areas'. And if those areas fall into a growth area residents, community groups and parish and town councils won't be able to comment on development proposals as they currently do."

Mr Bowyer recognised that there were areas in Dorset which could benefit from smaller developments, with a certain proportion of those developments being affordable but said "unfortunately developers don't want to build those".

He added: "We campaign against giving undue influence to developers. Residents and parish and town councils should be able to make contributions - in a democracy they should have their say.

"We want the right development built in the right area. Brownfield sites should be used for new developments, it is common sense really, if an already developed area can been used for housing, we shouldn't be concreting over greenfield land."

Leader of campaign group Save the Area North of Dorchester (STAND) and Dorchester councillor Alistair Chisholm is also concerned about what the new laws might mean for developments planned in Dorset.

He said: "There seems to be less opportunity for public engagement in planning applications as a result of this proposal legislation.

"It would be be bad for local democracy – there needs to be rule by consent and not having that consent on something as important as planning is detrimental. If people don't agree with the developments being planned it means that the plan is wrong, not that the people are wrong.

"If you put together a plan that does not recognise what makes Dorset special it will not go down well. As our representatives they should be representing our views and the current local plans do not do that. What is proposed will further remove Dorset from being what makes it special.

"It is absolutely monstrous that the present government is so incredibly well supported by land owners and developers who will make a lot of money from this legislation."