Over the past few decades our system for regulating the supply of land and what can or cannot be built on it has become labyrinthine
There have been 87 major planning initiatives in the last five years alone. But finding a better, workable alternative that is fair to those who want development and to those who don’t, that ensures that the development benefits the local community and delivers on the needs of the economy at large, has proved depressingly elusive.
Enter Grant Shapps and the Conservatives. This week they unveiled the long-awaited green paper on planning policy. Its central remit is localism. The scale of a development, they say, is down to the local community and it hopes that carrots rather than sticks will incentivise the community to build.
Given that Labour’s obsession with high-density development has so often resulted in a glut of the wrong accommodation being foisted on communities, you might think it commendable that the Tories are tackling this issue head on. Indeed, there is sense in some of their plans. They have wisely stuck to Labour’s idea of an infrastructure planning commission – albeit slightly reformed. They have replaced the planned infrastructure levy with something that has a more local flavour. And their pledge to simplify the Building Regulations could be a shrewd move – even if there is so far little detail. Thankfully, they decided against scrapping the regs altogether.
The problem is that in trying to balance the needs of the developers with the needs of the community, the party’s proposals could simply pull the system in opposite directions, leading to stalemate – and favouring the Nimbys. In the Tory plans there is a presumption for development – which looks like a good move – but set against this there are new rights for third parties to appeal planning permissions. So the Holy Grail of a workable but balanced system continues to elude us.
Housebuilders and housing associations are worried. And they have reason to be. Councils are already dragging their feet on applications which they feel can be more easily turned down after the election. Housing starts are fragile enough as it is. This is the wrong time for a major overhaul of the system – flawed as it may be.
Denise Chevin, editor
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