Hundreds of thousands of homes in England could be built without full-blown planning permission under Tory plans to slash controls on development.
Ministers will unveil a complete overhaul this week of England’s system that has been in place for 73 years in a bid to speed up new homes.
Instead of residents being able to fight any individual schemes from scratch, councils will divide land into three categories in advance.
In the most liberal “growth” zone, developer giants will automatically have permission “in principle” to build homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices.
Specifics will still need approval, including complying with a design code, but the question will no longer be whether a scheme should be built at all.
There will also be a “permission in principle approach” in the second type of zone, “renewal”.
Development will then be restricted in the third type of zone, “protected”, which will include the green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
A consultation is also set to suggest ending letters to every resident likely to be affected by a scheme.
Instead there will be a move towards online notifications. Notices would no longer appear on lamp posts.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick claimed the current system is a “barrier to building homes” and the changes will “cut red tape, not standards” – while speeding up vital new homes.
Mr Jenrick also said there will be a “legal requirement to have tree-lined streets for all new developments”.
But council chiefs sounded the alarm. Local Government Association chairman James Jamieson said: “It is vital that any reforms provide the right protections so residents have the power to shape the area they live in.
“Any suggestion that planning is a barrier to housebuilding is a myth. Nine in 10 planning applications are approved by councils, while more than a million homes given planning permission in the last decade have not yet been built.”
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “Instead of getting England building faster, major changes to the planning system could actually slow England down.
“Housebuilders risk facing uncertainty as they scramble to understand the new system and what it means for their plans – just as the construction industry is facing a huge economic downturn.
“In fact, it could even inadvertently put the frighteners on developers building new homes.
“Planning permission is not what is stopping England from getting high-quality, genuinely affordable homes – a lack of Government investment is.”
It comes just days after a report for the government found previous Tory “red tape” cutting led to homes as small as 16 square metres.
The study of “permitted development” homes, which can be built in former office blocks, found just 22% would meet national space standards and 10 had no windows at all.
Mr Jamieson said: “The Government’s own independent report warned of the worse quality of homes not delivered through the planning system.
“We urge the Government to heed these warnings and not further side-line the planning process.”
The new system will divide up land through “local plans” drawn up by councils every few years.
It’s understood some town halls may be forced to rip up their plans and redraw them to the new guidelines.
Government sources said there will be “appropriate transition arrangements” for councils that have recently drawn up their local plan.
The system will require legislation and has no confirmed launch date.
Housing Secretary Mr Jenrick wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “We are introducing a simpler, faster, people-focused system to deliver the homes and places we need.
“While house prices have soared since the Millennium… our complex and slow planning system has been a barrier to building homes that are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.
“Communities are missing out on new hospitals, new schools and improved roads.
“Restrictions have left derelict buildings as eyesores and empty shops on our high streets.”
He added: “Our Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rich heritage – will be protected.”