Cllr David Evans is a councillor on East Hampshire District Council.
The White Paper “Planning for the Future” is clear about its intentions which are “to streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed”.
Seems reasonable – so why should it have stirred up so much opposition?
What’s wrong with the present system?
Well, it doesn’t actually enable enough homes to be built; it doesn’t ensure they are well designed or in the best locations; – and it has been failing to do this for decades. People can see this and have nothing but contempt for the system. Planning Officers have to administer this dysfunctional system and do sterling work trying to get good results, often straining mightily against the benighted system.
The 1947 Act and its successors are there to control, which is to say restrict, development – and it works exactly as designed. The fact that Governments have tried repeatedly over at least the last ten years to amend the system so that it delivers more homes, and it has signally failed to so, proves that it is the system that is at fault. The planning system has a brake but no accelerator.
Professor Robert Adam has written for Policy Exchange:
“Most past reforms have just modified or added to the basic system introduced in 1947 as the first stage in a never-fully-executed socialist land reform agenda. Reform should go back to first principles.”
There you have the reason why all attempts to improve the system have failed – it was designed in such a way that reforms to change it would not be allowed.
As Anthony Breach has written for Capx:
“The problem is that it is eerily similar to the old Soviet-style planning systems of the former Eastern Bloc. Like in those countries, it is not possible for firms to just buy what they need – they must first apply for a planning permission which planners may not give them. In Britain today, developers can propose something that’s not forbidden by the plan, and lawfully be denied the right to build, creating massive uncertainty.”
It’s quite revealing to read what some opponents of the reforms have said. A group of Leftist academics have written in “The Right Answers to the Right Questions” that the reforms are proposed: “because they are opposed to its [the 1947 Act] foundational commitments to the redistribution of land value and environmental justice”. The Planning System must “promote social justice”. Under “Decolonising British Planning” they insist it must “Acknowledge the racial and Eurocentric history of planning techniques, both in Britain and abroad”, “recognise the structural existence of racism, beyond individual actions and behaviours, and use the planning system to combat it” and “the private appropriation of rents and of land value appreciation now diverts a large share of the social product from workers’ disposable incomes”
So there you have it: exposed as a key policy in establishing a Socialist command economy. Control housing and you control people. So why want the present system to remain? Is there something about individual liberty and freedom that you are desperate to suppress?
About ten per cent of England’s land has been developed and about two thirds of this is gardens, parks, playing fields, and the like. Green Belts, about 13 per cent, exist to stop cities growing. National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Special Protection Areas, already keep development away from vast areas with special significance.
In 2018, CPRE claimed that greenfield development was “rapidly concreting over the countryside” (which they repeated about these reforms). Does that stand up? From their figure for 2017 a calculation shows that by 2060 the developed land area would have grown from ten per cent to 11 per cent. “Rapidly concreting”? – I don’t think so.
So far as “Land Banking” is concerned – apart from its nonsense as a business proposition – take one simple number. Councils must maintain a five-year housing land supply, that is permissions granted, but not yet built. At a current build rate of 200,000 pa, that’s the one million that the builders are blamed for holding back on. It is the planning system that requires that.
So, who else benefits from this dysfunctional system?
Most obvious are all the planning consultants who live very well from guiding developers through the byzantine system – without adding anything of value to the outcome beyond gaining permission. It’s worth mentioning a study published a few years ago that found that the UK Planning system accounted for about 35 per cent of the cost of a new home.
Then there are bodies like CPRE who gather paying members by opposing development. Their response to the White Paper is to suggest adding even more restrictions thereby making the system even more dysfunctional – but giving CPRE an even longer list of ways to stop people having the homes they need.
People who own their own homes also may use the system to try to resist development near them. The cry “our fields are special and should not be built on – build somewhere else” always pops up, ignoring the fact the UK is so well endowed with beautiful countryside that there is nowhere a “somewhere else” that cannot make the identical claim.
It’s clear that much opposition is not because the new system would fail to deliver more, better-designed homes, according to what and where people would like, but because it would achieve precisely that outcome.
The claim that the new system will allow developers to build where they like, and all local influence and democratic control will cease is a compete inversion of what is planned. In fact, the “front-loading” of planning will give local people precisely what that they say they want.
With the present system, a landowner can agree to sell to developer who can then draw up plans and, provided it complies with the Local Plan, NPPF and so on, has a 90 per cent chance of being permitted without local people even being told that a development is coming. If anyone thinks that being able to make objections at that stage is a useful and effective exercise of “democratic oversight” then I’m afraid they simply haven’t been paying attention.
The new system envisages communities engaged fully from the start, long before the developer gets in, in deciding what goes where, what it might look like, what community facilities might be needed and, very importantly, feeding in their local knowledge about what people would like, what might not work, and all manner of things.
A system of zoning, where people have their input when and where it can have the greatest influence, and a rules-based approach rather than a discretionary system open to political leverage and bad decisions, together offer a real improvement over the present command and control system which is never going to yield the homes we want at the prices people can afford.
So get behind these reforms that sweep away the old 1947 Socialist-inspired system that doesn’t work and isn’t used anywhere else in the West, so that we can get more and better homes quickly. Let’s work to make the new system as flexible and responsive to people’s need as possible – or – sometime soon, we will wake up to a far-left Labour Government that will build huge council estates and reduce home ownership – and the Tory Party will be history for failing to deliver the homes we promised.