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Tue January 19 2021

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Planning system not broken, Construction Industry Council tells ministry

3 Nov 20 The Construction Industry Council has published its response to the Ministry of Housing’s planning reform white paper, coming out strongly against the government’s proposals.

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts
Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) represents most of the construction industry’s professional bodies and research organisations – it’s vested interest lies in things being built. But the government’s planning reforms are not the way to get things built, the CIC says.

When the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government published  its Planning for the future white paper in August, it proposed a simpler, quicker planning system to encourage more house-building.

However, the CIC, in its response to the consultation paper, says that “the planning system should not be blamed for the fact that housing targets were not being met”.

The prime minister, in his introduction to the white paper, wrote: “Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places. People cannot afford to move to where their talents can be matched with opportunity. Businesses cannot afford to grow and create jobs. The whole thing is beginning to crumble and the time has come to do what too many have for too long lacked the courage to do – tear it down and start again.”

The CIC disagrees with the idea that the planning system is broken. Its members agreed that the failure to build enough new homes was more attributable to the market, and specifically, the lack of house-builders in the market – an oligopoly of big house-builders a lack of SME builders who do not have deep enough pockets to invest in infrastructure of fund Section 106 monies demanded by councils.

CIC chief executive Graham Watts writes in his response to the ministry: “Although CIC members accept the need for some reform, they are not convinced that the radical changes suggested in the white paper will produce the desired outcome, and, moreover, they may damage the chances of the government achieving its home building targets.

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“Our view is that many of the mechanisms and processes already available in the current system would deliver improvement in outcomes, if they were bolstered and reinforced. We also feel it necessary to point out that a key reason why the planning system may be falling short of its ambitions is the lack of investment in local planning authorities. There needs to be significant investment in local authority capacity and skills. Under the proposed reforms, the plan-making stage becomes absolutely critical: as the focus of public engagement, as the process for designating all land uses and appropriate development typologies, and coordinating the infrastructure needed to support growth. Local authorities will need to be properly resourced if they are to deliver the boosted engagement levels envisaged.

“Alongside this it is vital that any reforms support parliament’s legislated targets for net-zero carbon by 2050. Therefore, carbon reduction has to be built into every aspect of a revised planning system.

“CIC members think it important that in areas where homes are least affordable, plans should include significant numbers of affordable homes. Otherwise, simply building more homes is unlikely to improve affordability, which we note is one of the desired outcomes of the reforms.

“But again, the planning system cannot be blamed for lack of affordable housing, which is largely down to lack of government subsidy.

“Finally, investment in local infrastructure is critical to deliver improvements in placemaking, and is a factor that too frequently gets overlooked.”

CIC's full submission can be found here.

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