The Government’s planning proposals, they are not reforms which suggest improvements and progression, are designed to remove the vestiges of democracy and give control to developers. Under the current system, democratic control is severely restricted with central Government setting targets, overseeing ‘local’ plans and allowing developers to appeal (and get costs awarded), if an application is refused. Local authorities have not been bold in criticising these policies, often happy to adopt the mantra of ‘build more houses’.
The new proposals make this situation far worse.
Anyone who thinks they will result in more houses being built is ignoring the reality that we already build enough houses (often of the wrong type), thats why developers do not build more than they do. The proposals will not address the problems of affordability, quality housing, or housing inequalities as these issues arise due to policies unrelated to supply.
What they will do is make it easier for developers by reducing the current checks, cutting some administrative costs and thereby boosting profits. Dealing with housing problems has nothing to do with it.
In a new white paper the government has set out sweeping plans to “cut red tape, overhaul the planning process and build better, greener homes faster”. But even by the standards of the modern Conservative party, this is no ordinary regulatory bonfire. In one fell swoop, the entire system that has governed land use in England for more than 70 years has been set ablaze.
Ever since the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was enacted, landowners and developers have had to apply to their local authority for planning permission to build new property or convert existing buildings from one use to another. The act was an elegant attempt by Clement Attlee’s Labour government to balance public and private interests: land was kept in private ownership but the right to develop it was nationalised.
But under the reforms published this week, this will be replaced with a zoning system under which all land will be designated as one of three categories. In so-called growth areas, permission will be granted automatically without having to submit a planning application. In “renewal” areas, which are expected to cover urban and brownfield sites, permission will be automatically granted subject to some basic checks. Only in “protected areas”, such as the green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty, will stricter development controls apply.
Under the current system there are two opportunities for democratic participation in the planning system: first, at the formation of a local plan which sets out the strategic priorities for development in an area; and then at the planning application stage of individual developments, which tends to be many years later. Under the proposed reforms, the second stage of consultation will be scrapped. As a result, only those with psychic powers to foresee future developments will be able to object to them at the initial plan-making stage. Democratic oversight of individual developments will soon be a thing of the past.
This is, of course, intentional. More than anything else, the reforms serve to transfer power away from local elected representatives and towards private developers, who will be able to build whatever they like, unopposed. The significance of this should not be underestimated. From now on, our built environment will be shaped around the interests of shareholder value, unchecked by democratic accountability.