Monday, 9 November 2015

"The planning system is badly broken and communities are being left to pick up the mess."

Are arguments against 'building' to be dismissed as 'nimbyist'?
Or is the planning system staked in favour of developers?
Futures Forum: What motivates nimbyism? Who benefits from land-use classification?

Last month there was a regional meeting of the Community Voice on Planning group, looking at how the planning system can be 'made to work':
Futures Forum: CoVoP workshop >>> How to make the planning system work for local communities, environment and sustainability >>> Saturday 10th October
Community Voice on Planning | A National Alliance to provide communities with an effective voice on planning, enabling them to protect their greenfield and green spaces.

The planning system does not seem to be working at all:


8 NOV 2015

Planning Situation: Background

There is very strong evidence to show that across England the Planning system is badly broken and that communities are being left to pick up the mess. The NPPF has resulted in planning-through-appeal and, in areas where Local Plans can’t get through the inspection process, the developers are having a field day. The common practice is to pick off sites that haven’t been identified for strategic development and take local authority decisions through appeal. The sites that have been identified for strategic development can then be picked off at leisure later on. Developers are building up magnificent stockpiles of permissions and their profits have shot up since the inception of the NPPF.

Permissions can last for a minimum of three years and on bigger sites this can be extended. All the developer has to do to secure the permission is to put a spade in the ground. He or she doesn’t have to build-out. Build-out rates are appallingly slow. In the midst of massive claims about housing need, the market, other than in London and the south east, is sluggish. Here in Cheshire East we have permissions coming out of our ears, but the builders churn out approximately 30 houses per annum, even on big sites. This is big business and neither councils nor communities can afford the level of legal expertise that is required to negotiate their way through the minefield. The cards are stacked against them, anyway. The NPPF is deliberately written to ensure that housing gets built, and sustainability, which is supposed to prevent adverse development is neither properly defined nor properly applied.

Developers have their own standard housing designs and they have finely tuned their businesses so that they build to those stock patterns and only build sufficient quantities to keep demand and prices high. That is why affordable housing is not built in the quantities that are needed and why the big builders won’t build things like bungalows. Land-owners have got in on the act and now only want to sell their land for housing because this brings in a bigger return than infrastructure or commerce.

Local authorities are being kicked by both government and their communities. In fact, their hands are tied because getting a local plan through an inspection is difficult and because the law has been constructed in such a way that opposition is neutered. The so-called objectively-assessed housing need is always based on figures that assume enormous levels of growth for the whole of the twenty-year plan period. Add in the Liverpool and Sedgefield decisions, which are ways of providing an extra provision to supplement the five year housing supply, and areas are stuck with unrealistic housing expectations. Which the builders argue for, but then don’t bother to supply.

The NPPF was compiled by four people, three of whom had interests in the construction industry and one of whom was an officer in the RSPB. It is considered by most communities to be a developers’ charter. The lead figure in pushing for this was a woman from the Treasury called Kate Barker who is now a director of Taylor Wimpey. I once carried out an assessment of a group of members of the House of Lords who were in a debate on housing and who were all demanding further deregulation of the planning regime. They all had some kind of personal pecuniary interest in the industry.

All this might be forgivable if housing for those who need it was being supplied. It is not. Generally speaking, the housing that is being built is often in the luxury end of the market and such unnecessary provision as second homes. There are now more private landlords than in the public or housing association sector. Evidence shows that the latter are not going to be building much more property for several years because they are having to make up the shortfall, in some instances by making staff redundant, as a result of the current changes to the welfare regime. The right-to-buy is also seen by them as a threat and makes them reluctant to invest in more property.

There are some useful studies about all these things, in addition to the evidence presented by communities to the Review that was held by the Committee for Communities and Local Development last year. They made recommendations that might have been really helpful and the Government chose to ignore these. The Secretaries of State and the Planning Ministers seem to be in total denial about the failure of their policy. Across England there are action groups in communities that feel bruised and damaged by the fall-out from all this. Because the emphasis has been on a kind of scorched-earth, build-at-any-cost, programme the basic infrastructure provision that underpins all development is being eroded or omitted. The gladiatorial contests in major planning appeals now include spirited attempts to get away with not making any contributions to community infrastructure. The government is complicit in this. All political parties, and many charities make statements about the quantity of housing need but they rarely present the evidence that supports these claims.

At local level, we know that our local association has no method of working out housing need because they allow multiple registration (the same person can apply for as many different kinds of accommodation as they want. Every time they apply, this counts as housing need. It doesn’t matter whether they are already housed. A member of their household can also register in the same way).

​(Jenny Unsworth, CoVoP and Protect Congleton)

COVOP summary: The state of planning today | East Devon Watch

See also:
High Court rules on Liverpool vs Sedgefield and some other NPPF housing interpretation issues | News | Landmark Chambers | Barristers Chambers London
The struggle for sites | Planning Resource
How do you measure a five year housing land supply?

Taylor Wimpey plc Board of Directors | Taylor Wimpey
Housing: Affordability — Question for Short Debate: 22 Jan 2014: House of Lords debates - TheyWorkForYou

Communities need greater protection against unsustainable development - News from Parliament - UK Parliament
NPPF loopholes causing ‘inappropriate and unwanted housing development’ | News | Architects Journal


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