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Local Housing Trust plan under fire

The Government’s “revolutionary” scheme to put planning decisions in the hands of local people has been criticised by one of the original architects of the policy.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps last week said that if 90 per cent of local residents were in favour of a housing scheme, they would be able to form a Local Housing Trust to force through building work without going through planners.

But Bob Paterson - who advised the taskforce which drafted the policy - told Construction News the proposal was unworkable as it would be too difficult to achieve 90 per cent acceptance.

He said: “The benchmark for approval is set too high. The irony is that if they got 85 per cent, it would go through normal planning channels and come out the other side as a Community Land Trust.

Mr Paterson said that with 85 per cent approval, a scheme would sail through planning in any case.

“To my view, the only difference between the two is the need to go through planning. So you wonder whether this is just a branding exercise.”

Another key plank of the proposed Local Housing Trusts is the requirement for them to be non-profit organisations set up for the benefit of the community.

They must also own the land on behalf of the community in perpetuity, regardless of what is built on top.

But both of these are already key clauses in the establishment of CLTs.

“For this new scheme to be meaningful, barriers to entry would need to be 50 per cent or 60 per cent,” said Mr Paterson.

The plan for Local Housing Trusts is to be put before Parliament as part of the Decentralisation and Localism Bill later this year.

Housebuilders are desperate for ways of getting schemes approved once the Government ditches regional targets.

Mr Shapps said: “I want communities to have the freedom to decide on the type and quantity of housing without external restrictions imposed by a centralised planning system.

“We want local people to decide what happens in their community. Local Housing Trusts should be able to proceed in areas where there is [90 per cent] support for new developments from people living in the area.”

Mr Paterson, founder of Community Finance Solutions at Salford University, advised a task force led by his colleague Dr Karl Dayson, which was commissioned by the Conservative Party in the run-up to the last election to establish what the barriers were for communities trying to establish CLTs.

Dr Dayson said: “The prize of being able to control planning is so great that I think it is right that we should seek to get a high proportion of support.”

But he admitted the threshold might need to be adjusted if it proved too challenging, and added that funnelling schemes through traditional planning routes so they ended up as CLTs rather than LHTs would achieve equally important social and construction gains.

Access to finance, technical advice, and planning were the key findings of his work.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director of the Home Builders Federation, said LHTs actually risked putting a brake on projects.

“You could imagine this working in a small rural location where there is a need to keep workers in that community. But I cannot see it working in urban areas.”