The demise of democracy

Somehow the Government have decided, contrary to the evidence, that  the planning system is holding up the building of new homes so, in the Queens speech, it was unveiled that the biggest shake up to the planning system since 1947 is on the cards.

The proposed reforms will make it more difficult for existing homeowners to block development. Planning designations will be given to wide swathes of the countryside giving “planning permission in principle”. This would be done at “plan stage” perhaps years before the houses are actually built and certainly in many cases against the wishes of local people.

It is the death of Localism, the birthplace of Neighbour Plans that put planning decision making into the hands of local people. Who better to guide the growth of communities whilst protecting the delicate balance of progress over nature?

Yet the promise was empty, the policies created at grass roots simply overthrown by the folks in Westminster.

To put it simply – whereas you currently have two opportunities to comment on planning proposals, once during the making of the Local Plan and then again as each application included in the Plan, and any that aren’t, come forward for consideration.  If this legislation goes through, you will only have one!

It started with a manifesto promise. “We will build 300,000 new homes a year” they said.

The problem is, “they” can’t actually force landowners and developers to build. The Guardian  reports a study by the Local Government Association (LGA)  that shows that there are over 1.1 million planning permissions for homes in the UK that have yet to be built. It’s not that difficult to guess why. Supply and demand; simple economic principles.

Most (if not all) developers have one aim – to make a profit. If they build all at once, they will flood the market and, with more homes available than buyers, yes you guessed it, the price will fall. So, a vicious circle of development is created.

Government says “There is a shortage of housing”, it then sets targets for councils to allocate more land for homes and grant planning permission. But developers hold back supply of new houses to keep the price high (land banking). The result: Not enough homes are built and we still have a shortage of housing.

We see the problem clearly. We have spoken to our MP about it and our concerns about the impact of the proposed changes to the planning system on democracy.  We hope that many of you will do the same.

Deliver, Deliver, Deliver!

We visited Ashford MP, Rt. Hon Damian Green today to discuss our thoughts on the government planning White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ and the more immediate changes proposed to the planning system.

Our message was simple;

  • Target the developers and management companies to meet the government housing targets. They land bank planning approvals but do not build . Do not blame local people. The Local Government Association ( LGA) estimates that there are one million unbuilt houses in the planning system that have been approved by councils but not delivered. We have many examples locally. If these were built, the housing targets could easily be met without the need to sacrifice more fields for housing.
The lack of delivery cycle….
  • The proposal to limit local input to the making of the Local Plan is undemocratic and unworkable; people care about development when it is imminent, next door and about to impact their lives. Local Plans are made many years in advance and people do not relate to them. Democracy is about freedom to express a view – not processes that limit local input to drive desired outcomes for developers.

Our message to Boris is therefore; the planning system is far from perfect but please put the pressure where it is needed; reform delivery, don’t punish local people. Legislate to ensure that once planning approval is given, developers have to commit to building out sites within a defined timescale.

The slogan should be Deliver, Deliver, Deliver! not Build, Build Build!