Campaigners fear government plans to streamline planning rules will herald a “war” on rural areas and blight the countryside with new buildings.
Brandon Lewis, the planning minister, has hired an eight strong team to “slash” the amount of time it takes for councils to set up local plans which set out where building can take place.
But half of the group have backgrounds which have involved with the construction of more homes and other buildings, prompting fears that the needs of developers will be put first.
John Howell MP – the architect of the Tory policy which underlies the new National Planning Policy Framework – is also on board as well as a former senior planning inspector.
Other members include John Rhodes, a planning consultant, Adrian Penfold, the head of planning at developers British Land, and Richard Harwood, a senior barrister who specialises in planning
Liz Peace, the former chief executive of the British Property Federation, was one of the leading cheerleaders for the planning reforms, which were introduced in March 2012 with a bias in favour of development.
The announcement of the new panel led to online exchanges between Mr Lewis and Shaun Spiers, the chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Mr Spiers told the minister on Twitter that it was “another developer-led panel on planning, without environment or community representation”. The outcome would be “depressingly predictable”, he said.
Mr Lewis defended the group saying that “their first-class advice will help councils push on and deliver the homes and infrastructure that their communities need”.
Councils are duty bound to publish five year housing plans in local development plans but only two thirds of local authorities in England have done so.
Earlier this year ministers raised the prospect forcing councils which have not set up local plans to accept housing quotas.
Mr Spiers told The Telegraph last night: “Everyone wants local authorities to get plans in place, to strengthen the economy and get houses built.
“But planning is also about the communities and places we love. Reconciling our different aspirations makes planning complex and deeply political. Assembling a bunch of developers and politicians to streamline the process won’t work. We’ve been down that path before.
“If the government is going to get the development it wants, it will have to win people’s consent. And to win that consent, it will have to show it is listening and wants to safeguard the countryside and the wider environment.
“Brandon Lewis has been a good listener, and I hope the composition of this panel, without any voice for the environment or local communities, does not signal the return of the war on planning.”
Councils have until early 2017 to produce local plans before ministers will intervene and arrange for one to be written. In cases where no Local Plan has been produced the Government will intervene to arrange for one to be written, in consultation with local people.
Mr Lewis said: “Our planning reforms have caught the imagination of communities across the country, allowing them to bring forward developments that are a real benefit to local people.
“However, while many have seized this opportunity, it’s fair to say the process of getting Local Plans in place can sometimes be lengthy and complicated.
“That’s why we’ve brought together this panel of experts to help look at ways to streamline the process. Their first-class advice will help councils push on and deliver the homes and infrastructure that their communities need.”
A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The Local Plans panel comprises experts from a range of backgrounds.
“In addition, because plan-making involves a wide range of considerations, the panel can call on other experts as they see fit.
“Local plans are all about giving power to the people and the panel will make sure that happens more efficiently while maintaining strong protections for the Green Belt”.