Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Britain’s real planning scandal

Figures released today in HBF’s latest Housing Pipeline report reveal that approvals for just 32,900 homes across England were granted in Q3 of this year, a 10% decrease on the same period last year. This number is half that required to build the homes needed to meet demand – and half the permissions granted each quarter in 2006 and 2007.

These shocking statistics come on the same day that the media are reporting the awful experiences for those suffering homelessness at Christmas and a report from a Select Committee of MPs saying that the Government’s planning reforms are too biased in favour of developers at the expense of the environment.

The MPs biggest gripe appears to be the default ‘Yes’ that is built into the proposed National Planning Policy Framework.  What they have failed to miss is that if a local authority adopts a local plan, there is no presumption in favour of development – the local plan takes precedent. 

The local plan led system is the essence of localism.  Local councils have been required to maintain an up to date local plan since 2004.  However, eight years on, two-thirds still have no such plan in place.  Why is this?

Local plans require local councils to undertake housing assessment studies to identify what housing demand and housing need is expected over the plan period.  Once they have done that, they have to allocate a credible amount of land to meet those housing requirements.  The reality is that many Council’s do not want to face up to this challenge.  They don’t want to make the difficult decisions about where we build the homes of the future.

If there is no local plan in place, councils can throw out major planning applications on the grounds that they are ‘premature’, i.e that the applications must come after the local plan.  If the local plan does not come forward, nor can those planning applications.  It is a loophole NIMBY councils have exploited time and time again to throw out legitimate plans for development.

The consequence of this action has been a substantial fall in planning approvals, as reported by the HBF.  It is time the Government put a stop to it and this is exactly what the National Planning Policy Framework will do.  Those councils that do not adopt a plan will find the presumption in favour kicking in.  My guess is that at that moment, councils will stop dragging their heels and start working on their local plans.

The Localism agenda gives huge powers to local councils.  The NPPF will ensure that they use those powers responsibility.

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