MAJOR changes to the planning system,which would see homes ‘automatically’ approved, could be the “death of local democracy” a councillor has warned.

Under draft laws, developers would be granted “automatic” permission to build homes and schools on “growth” sites but the plans have been criticised by one city councillor who fears the changes will lead to poor quality homes being built in the city.

Long-serving city council planning committee member Roger Berry said: “I would say it is the death of local democracy. Decisions will no longer be made locally and this is the time for the public to make their views heard.

“My big concern is the quality of housing will deteriorate if developers are given free-reign. There is already evidence from permitted developments, where offices have been allowed to be converted into houses, that the quality of those developments are substandard, by all means. They are very small and they don’t have adequate space.

“Clearly one thing we should learn from Covid is that we need decent accommodation adjacent to ‘green lungs’ in cities.”

As well as defining certain ‘growth’ areas, for which plans would receive ‘automatic’ permission, plans in ‘renewal’ areas would receive permission ‘in principle’ which the government says will speed-up building.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and green belt land would be protected from development, the government said.

Mr Jenrick said the government was “cutting red tape but no standard” and dismissed claims the reforms would lead to slums as “nonsense.”

The Housing Secretary had called the planning system “outdated and cumbersome” and its complexity had been a barrier to building homes.

Cllr Berry said it was wrong for housing secretary Robert Jenrick to criticise councils when around 90 per cent of planning applications were approved without delay only for building to not start.

“In Worcester, there is evidence that planning applications are approved, and we are still waiting for development,” he added. “It’s false to say that we are the cause of the delay. It’s an excuse [for the government] to appeal to builders and a chance to give them free reign.”

Cllr Alan Amos, who currently sits on the city council’s planning committee, said he would be very concerned if any of the government’s proposed changes reduced the influence local communities had to fight developers over large housing plans.

The former planning chairman said developers were already given a bigger say in planning decisions and he did not want to see the rights of communities to weaken any further.

“I think the views of local people are very important and should always be a major factor in planning decisions,” he said. “I have consistently said this. It is the communities that will be affected so we need to listen to what the locals have to say.

“I have been critical in the past of Worcester planning in that it gives too much weight and importance to what developers want at the expense of local residents.

“I would be very concerned if the powers of local residents to influence what goes on in their communities any further.”

The plans for greater protection of green spaces delighted one city campaign group which has been fighting off huge developments in Battenhall for a number of years.

Middle Battenhall Farm Land Action Group, which fought off plans by Miller Homes to build homes on the green space in 2014, said the references to protect green space were welcome news.

“This is really what we have been looking for in this area for several years now,” a spokesman said.

“If we go on building like we are right up to, say, the M5, we won’t have a city in the countryside like it has often been said.

“All of these spaces are like green lungs and the beautiful views of the countryside will be lost if they are allowed to be built on.

“From our point of view, we are very pleased to see the reference to green space.