Late amendments to the Localism Bill would allow planning applications to be decided on financial grounds, angry planners have claimed.
They fear cash-strapped councils would be tempted to accept unsuitable developments that came with large sums from the new homes bonus or community infrastructure levy money.
Royal Town Planning Institute president Richard Summers said the amendments showed communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles had reneged on earlier promises that planning decisions would continue to be taken on technical and policy grounds, not financial ones.
He said: “Ministers said very clearly barely 12 weeks ago that the bonus would not be used to influence the granting of planning permission for development that would not normally be accepted.
“We are appalled the Government is trying to introduce such a fundamental and potentially damaging change to the planning system without any consultation at such a late stage in the passage of the Localism Bill.”
Mr Summers the amendment would see financial issues outweigh community or environmental ones so that if a council rejected an application it could “face an additional challenge on appeal arising from financial issues becoming a primary consideration”.
The row turns on an amendment that concerns the ‘material considerations’ to which planning authorities must have regard when deciding on applications.
This stated that these ‘material considerations’ would now include “any local finance considerations, so far as material to the application”.
Mr Pickles’ amendment defined these as “a grant or other financial assistance that has been, or will or could be, provided to a relevant authority by a minister of the crown”, or sums that could be received from a developer under the community infrastructure levy.
Neil Sinden, policy director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: “This amendment is a brazen attempt to legalise cash for sprawl.”
Councils might be tempted to permit any development that would bring in much-needed money, but “decisions based on financial benefit, rather than on whether proposed development is appropriate, could be hugely damaging to the environment and public confidence in planning”, he said.
A DCLG spokesperson said: “The amendments continue to refine the Bill so it can effectively remove the barriers preventing people from running their own affairs and incentivise sustainable local growth helping build a stronger, fairer Britain.”
A further amendment would allow ministers to designate local enterprise partnerships as bodies with which councils must co-operate when preparing plans.
An RTPI spokesman said: “They have listed to us on this, as involving LEPs goes some way to filling the gap left by the loss of regional plans.”