End of local planning control?
August this year has been dominated by the school exam grade fiasco and now the new government published plans on planning and scene setting for its white paper in September on recovery, devolution and reorganisation.
As we face mounting challenges to our finances, governance, licensing, care and climate, the government squeeze on local councils now extends to centralising planning policy into a framework which increases permitted development, undermines local plans and reduces local decision-making on applications and with it, the public voice. This puts more power in hands of developers with no real counterbalance.
Around 90% of applications are already assessed quickly and passed without even going to committee. Our plans and policies help developers locate opportunities, often also assisted by our economic departments. It’s a myth that planning is holding up development. Permissions for a million homes over the past decade have not been built, just land-banked, and a tax could be applied to those.
Councils have a twenty or thirty-year “Local Plan” where the government has set the minimum building targets and councils have consulted the public and found where those dwellings can be provided. But Government has now published new numbers of required dwellings, insurmountably greater in some areas, and asking us to now write new local plans and new design codes. All this at a time when resources are already stretched.
Expensive areas are required to provide the most development, which helps developers, but does not help the local communities who want to balance development with keeping the attractive character of an area and with essential facilities. Nor do the government targets help provide more affordable housing, essential to help social mobility and those facing homelessness.
With 106 payments and the mandatory Community Infrastructure Levy swept aside, a new tax could be used for affordable housing, but as we know, when under pressure to meet “ambitious” government targets for growth, then essential support for infrastructure runs woefully short.
This government appears to have lost their way on localism, lost the thread of local is better. Councils know our communities best and come up with the solutions needed to deliver both the government’s agenda and our local priorities.
We will respond to the planning consultations and I encourage you to do so too. The current system is not perfect, but centralising policies and decisions on the number of dwellings is the wrong direction.
At the same time, we are fighting against mounting pressure to replace our current two-tier system with big mayoral-led unitaries. At a time when Districts have proven their worth like no time before; leading local resilience, recovery and cohesion during the pandemic, Districts are the most trusted part of government and our two-tier system isn’t broken. So areas may choose to change, but unless all members and residents are in agreement, we will be pushing back on top-down reorganisation.
We need the distractions to stop and to focus on what we want to do; build thriving local communities in partnership with our residents.