The mayor of Watford fears the government will strip planning powers away from the council giving them little say on major development in the town.

Peter Taylor says reported government proposals to fast-track planning applications in response to the coronavirus pandemic is "disgraceful".

The mayor says part of the government's proposed plans include creating more government-run development companies to decide on large planning applications and expanding the use of permitted development rights.

Mr Taylor has also referred to a report by the Telegraph which claims it has seen proposals that developments of 1,000 homes or more could require fewer consents and construction of these developments can begin within 12 months of the moment plans are submitted.

Furthermore, the deputy editor of the Times, Steven Swinford, tweeted on June 23 that Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chief advisor, will address "long-term problems" in the wake of coronavirus crisis.

Mr Swinford added that Mr Cummings had singled out the "appalling" planning system in England and Wales which he said need overhauling because it "makes things so hard to build".

The Liberal Democrat-controlled Watford Borough Council has come under much criticism in recent months over redevelopment in Watford - particularly when Lib Dem councillors passed plans for a 28 storey tower and more than 1,200 homes in St Albans Road, Watford.

Hillingdon Times:

A view of the scheme for 1,214 homes from Bedford Street. Credit: Berkeley Homes

Housing developments are underway by Watford General Hospital, and Ascot Road and Sydney Road West Watford, and further homes are planned in St Albans Road and near Watford Junction.

A reported government target of 750 homes a year in Watford over the next 15 years has been described by the town's mayor as "unrealistic", while the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick wrote to the mayor earlier this year to tell him Watford was failing to meet its housing targets.

In light of the post-pandemic government proposals, Mr Taylor said: "This is a disgraceful way to take even more power from local communities and put them in the hands of central government so they can force more development on our town. These plans will mean councils have even fewer powers to challenge the government’s unrealistic targets.

"It is clear that we must build good quality homes that local families can afford. We should decide what is best for Watford, rather than be dictated to by the Conservative government. We need the power to reject poor quality developments and insist on better infrastructure, as well as cut the unrealistic and unfair housing targets we have been set.

"The government must give powers back to local councils so our town can decide what is best for us."

Councillors were accused by residents of not pushing back against plans for a 28 storey tower on The Range site - but during the meeting in which the planning application was decided, deputy mayor Cllr Karen Collett warned the council could be fined thousands of pounds if the developer had successfully appealed a refusal.

Hillingdon Times:

A view of the St Albans Road scheme from Watford Junction

In 2019, the council refused a total of 260 planning applications. Of these, 62 were appealed. Government planning inspectors had reversed 15 of these 62 appeals as of January, with more than half awaiting a decision.

But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing has told the Observer only approximately 1 per cent of all local authority decisions on planning applications are overturned on appeal, adding by law, planning applications are determined in accordance with the local development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

The spokesperson added: "Last year we delivered over 241,000 new homes across England – more than at any point in the last 30 years – with locally-led planning decisions at the heart of this success.

"Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this government and is an important part of our plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus.

"We have already set out an ambitious programme to modernise our planning system. Our ‘Planning for the Future’ reforms will support the delivery of homes that local people need and create greener communities with more beautiful homes. Further details will be published in due course."

Watford's Conservative MP Dean Russell told the Observer earlier this year that he would "gladly fight for Watford residents" but said he wanted to see evidence that government housing targets for the town were "unrealistic".

Watford's MP admitted the town is "overdeveloped" when we asked him for this thoughts on the mayor's criticism the government but he also took a swipe at the council.

He said: "The council makes these broad statements that it is always the government's fault and we have to build up.

"The truth is planning decisions are made by the council and they have the opportunity to push back. I'm still yet to get official outreach from the council on this subject.

"Watford is seeing these big towers going up and I've seen nothing to say councils should be building 20 storey flats. I have raised concerns with ministers about tower blocks in Watford making sure homes are affordable for young people.

"The government is actually more concerned about under developed areas."

Watford's Labour councillor Asif Khan has said: "Between the Tory and Lib Dem blame game, Watford residents are once again being forgotten.

"We do need more housing, but it must be affordable and it cannot continue to be crammed in overdeveloped areas.

"The Conservative government must be realistic in its housing target and the Lib Dem council must stop sacrificing affordable housing for Watford residents."

Labour has referred to the Berkeley Homes scheme as an example, where just shy of nine per cent of the 1,214 homes being built will be affordable - falling below the council's policy of 35 per cent.