Councils are not the planning problem

The pressure on local councils to ‘Build, build, build…’ comes directly from government, is justified on the grounds of the ‘housing crisis’ and ‘driving the economy’ but is in direct conflict with most residents feelings as well as messages about the vital role of green spaces to human health and the environment.

Like many of our friends and neighbours, we are concerned that government strategy is misguided; far from delivering the ‘affordable’ homes that are needed, it is rapidly leaving whole sectors of society behind and turning the UK’s housing market into investment stock for the lucky few.

Corona virus has taken all planning committee meetings online leading many people to feel that their right to participate is being denied through their discomfort with technology. It has also dramatically changed the economy – so are those housing targets and definitions of housing need even relevant post-COVID? We recently wrote to our MP, Damian Green to ask this question:

Ashford cannot be accused of failing to build; the Council is delivering on the Local Plan 2030 that was published in February 2019 and is the template for the next ten years. Much of the development is on green fields, creating resident out-cry and building-site-chaos across almost every entrance to the Borough.

Writing in Saturday’s Telegraph, the Minister for Housing, Robert Jenrick, said the country’s “outdated and cumbersome planning system has contributed to a generational divide between those who own property and those who don’t”, stating that the slow planning system “has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable.”  But it is Government planning policy that defines the planning system. It gives councils the responsibility for ‘delivering’ houses by making a local plan that allocates land for building and by approving planning applications but fails to give councils any means of ensuring that developers actually BUILD once planning permission is granted.  And the planned planning reform focusses on how to allocate more sites not how to deliver more houses….

Government needs to be creative – delivery targets need to be included in planning permissions granted.  Any planning permission  expires and developers are required to demonstrate that they have STARTED to build – usually within 3 years.   Let’s change that!  Let’s mandate that, to retain planning permission on an allocated piece of land, the developer must have COMPLETED within 3 years. That would bring forward building and stop developers sitting on approved sites for years at a time, even selling them off at a profit because they have planning permission, without ever putting a spade in the ground.

Current planning process...

We need to make DELIVERY part of the planning process!

At present most developers do not start to build until they have sold a set number of properties off-plan; it is a commercial decision because they have 3 years to start building. But those construction jobs are needed NOW.  If we can deliver more houses, faster on the allocated sites with planning permission it will not be necessary to grant more and more approvals to keep the delivery trickle moving.  Conversely to how it sounds, it will protect our greenfield sites by making sure those allocated for building deliver the most value. This is allegedly what our government is looking for; houses that will drive the economy and increase the number of homes available.  They need to be built now not ‘start within 3 years’. Give us the tools we need Mr Jenrick!