The Government this month released it’s White Paper ‘planning for the future’ outlining plans to change the planning process to ‘streamline and modernise the planning process.’
In 2012, the Government tore apart the planning rules in favour of their new NPPF. This, ‘simplification’ and ‘cutting of red tape’ only in practice meant that developers could ride roughshod over planning law, sit on land banks of millions and put the onus on local Government to prove why a site is unsuitable as opposed to the developer.
Have we really seen an improvement in the planning system over the past decade and has this ‘cutting of red tape’ really seen a surge in affordable housing? Whilst there are some things in this white paper to like (the abolishment of viability assessments for example), there are some key concerns I have.
Firstly, there is a democracy gap. There is a move to remove significant engagement with specific applications in favour of ‘democratising’ local neighbourhood plans. That is all very well, but Otley’s recent neighbourhood plan referendum had a turnout of 23.6% – and that is high for such a poll. How will the Government increase engagement in such an exercise and how will this adequately reflect the concern of a community around specific applications?
Fast tracking individuals to build stories onto their homes without giving affected neighbours a say is wrong.
Secondly, it is still unclear what the effect will be on communities labelled ‘growth’ and on whether this will disproportionately affect poorer more urban areas. Whilst there is talk of an increased Community Infrastructure Levy (to replace section 106), there are still concerns over exceptions and whether developers will still manage to escape their commitments to green spaces, and local infrastructure.
This is without mentioning the commitment to social housing that Labour councils have tried to increase in local plans. Do we have faith that Robert Jenrick, the same man who assisted Richard Desmond in avoiding millions in CIL can be trusted to create legislation that would ensure developers pay their fair share to the community?
Evidence gathered by the CPRE shows that “three-quarters of housing developments should not have been granted planning permission due to poor or mediocre design quality” Will further deregulation of the process not further this problem? Encouraging renovations in unused buildings is a good thing, but renovations carry VAT where newbuilds do not. This onlu encourages developers to bulldoze old buildings in favour of new ones. Nobody could argue that making planning simpler is a bad thing. But we have heard this before. Giving people access to the planning process and making the system more rules based and understandable should not mean that developers get an easy ride through the planning system. Allowing developers easy planning permission does not result in a boom of affordable or social housing.
We must keep planning local. I am confident that Leeds’ Site Allocations Plan is strong enough to withstand these new rules, but it is easy to see how a Tory Government can strip down the tools of local Government to protect it’s communities against unwanted and undesirable development. It is an old Tory trick that strips councils of their ability to adequately guard against bad development safe in the knowledge that it will ultimately be the council who take the blame for those developments.
I look forward to seeing how this white paper develops into legislation and we will be scrutinising that legislation.