Abolition of regional housing targets risks putting planning decision in hands of reluctant locals

The news that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has abolished Regional Planning Strategies may raise fears that the Coalition Government is succumbing to “NIMBYism”.

The Regional Planning Strageties were created by the Labour government in 2004, and set housebuilding targets for each region.

Mr Pickles described the strategies as “Soviet tractor-style top down planning” (according to the Times) and has instead promised to introduce more local control over the planning process for new homes. The immediate effect of this has been that local councils have turned down plans for thousands of new homes.

This reaction may confirm fears that more “local” control over planning will mean even less house building than at present. Local people will generally always resist new house building in their area. Building new homes is against their interests, it puts increased pressure on their local services, lowers their own house prices and (in their view) potentially ruins the character of their local community.

The people who stand to benefit from new housebuilding, people who don’t live in the local area but maybe able to do so if new homes are built, have no say. Overall the drive for “localism” could put power in the hands of so-called NIMBYs, and may further exacerbate the housing shortage in the UK.

The coalition does, however, appear to be aware of this risk. Grant Shapps, housing minister, has promised to introduce a “New Homes Bonus” scheme, where central government will pay local authorities extra cash for each new home built.

This may go some way to correcting the bias brought it by more localism. For now however the immediate consequences of the end of the regional planning strategies is that house building schemes have been cancelled and the construction industry, only just recovering from the recession, is further hit.

Cala Homes, one housebuilder whose plans to build 2000 new homes in Winchester have been affected by Mr Pickles’ decision, has now launched a legal challenge. Housebuilder, and the construction industry in general, will no doubt watch how this develops with interest.

Rupert Webber is a solicitor at Weightmans