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Wed January 22 2020

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Planning shake-up falls short of obvious solution

6 Mar 18 Prime minister Theresa May made a big speech on house-building yesterday, donned a Hi-Vis vest and posed for photos on a Barratt building site.

Prime minister Theresa May visits a building site
Prime minister Theresa May visits a building site

“This government is rewriting the rules on planning,” she said. “We’re streamlining the planning process, so that much-needed homes aren’t held up by endless appeals and bureaucracy.

“We’re making it easier for neglected and abandoned commercial sites to be turned into housing. And we’re making sure councils do all they can to find sites, grant planning permissions and build homes. That includes creating a nationwide standard that shows how many homes authorities need to plan for in their area – making the system fairer and more transparent.”

Her speech marked an overhaul to the National Planning Policy Framework, introducing new demands and regulations on local authorites and developers alike, with new quality standards and new expanded public consultation procedures.

Local authorities will have a new housing delivery test based on how many new homes already delivered in their area, rather than numbers planned for ( – retro-targets?).

Local authorities, on the housing front-line, said that the problem is not the planning system, however, but the rules that forbid councils from investing in housing provision. They've been saying it for years, but the Treasury just won't listen.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “In the last year, councils and their communities granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed. Councils approved more than 321,000 new homes in 2016/17, while there were around 183,000 new homes added in the same year. More than 423,000 homes with planning permission are still waiting to be built.

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“The truth is that councils are currently approving nine in 10 planning applications, which shows that the planning system is working well and is not a barrier to building. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of planning refusals are upheld on appeal, vindicating councils’ original decisions.

“It is completely wrong, therefore, to suggest the country’s failure to build the housing it desperately needs is down to councils. The threat of stripping councils of their rights to decide where homes are built is unhelpful and misguided.

“The last time the country delivered 300,000 homes which this country needs each year, in the 1970s, councils were responsible for more than 40% of them and it’s essential that we get back to that. In order for that to happen, councils have to be able to borrow to build homes again. It is essential that councils and their communities are empowered to ensure local development creates prosperous places, that new homes are good quality and affordable, and that they are supported by crucial services and infrastructure such as roads and schools.

“The government must also end national policies that undermine the local voice of councils and communities. This includes scrapping permitted development rights that allow developers to convert offices into homes without planning permission, which accounted for one in 10 new homes last year.

“Ultimately, the private sector will never build enough of the homes the country needs on its own. The government must back the widespread calls, including from the Treasury select committee, for council borrowing and investment freedoms to spark a renaissance in house building by local government.”

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