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Planning overhaul ignores local needs, warns industry

Industry figures have warned that the measures announced in today’s housing package are putting the government’s localism agenda at risk.

The commitment to finding local solutions to local problems is waning at a time when small, local firms are taking on an ever-decreasing share of UK housing, according to several firms.

Giles Ferin, planning principal at contractor EMW, said the new policies “would strip power away from local authorities” and were “at odds with the government’s own agenda of devolving decision-making wherever possible to the local community”.

“Decisions affecting the local area could be made by the Planning Inspectorate based miles away, making planning decisions less accountable to residents and local businesses, and the planning system less likely to engage the local community as the government wants,” said Mr Ferin.

Under the proposals, many commercial and residential applications may be fast-tracked. Section 106 requirements on providing affordable housing could be renegotiated, and where local authorities remain stubborn may be decided by the Planning Inspectorate instead.

To be perfectly frank it’s more Leninism than localism

Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey

Taylor Wessing head of planning and environment Alistair Watson broadly welcomed the moves, but agreed that some local authorities may depend on provisions in their s106 agreements.

“They’ll be relying on that housing, that income stream, that payment towards transport provision,” he said. “They may even have spent it already.

“Combine that with cuts to central government grants and you’re putting the squeeze on local authorities.

“You have a constant tension between development and protection of land. What you’ve got is central government stepping in and saying if you’ve got local problems we’ll step in and help sort them out – that is a shift away from the localism agenda.”

Earlier today the opposition strongly objected to any attempt by the government to take power over s106 away from local councils. Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey said it would be “absolutely wrong to rob local communities and local councils of the opportunity to insist on an element of affordable housing in a development”.

“A sensible discussion locally where there’s been a stalled development, about renegotiating the terms of 106, I’ve no problem with that,” he said.

“But that in the party of localism, that you have Whitehall telling town hall what to do with the land it faces would be absolutely wrong. To be perfectly frank it’s more Leninism than localism.”

“106 has been an effective tool – it’s not always been used in the right way but it’s been an effective tool which has been very significant for affordable housebuilding.”

Others in the industry welcomed the policy changes, with the Home Builders Federation praising the decision to take away housing away from poorly performing authorities, since s106 requirements put a significant cost burden on developers.

HBF executive chairman Stewart Baseley said: “Under the new system local authorities have more power, but with that comes responsibility and government must ensure they are meeting the needs of their communities.

“Unrealistic expectations on what housebuilding sites can support is meaning many sites are not viable and housebuilding cannot take place. While it is positive that government has recognised this, real progress must be made as quickly as possible to ensure that viability – which is central to construction – is improved.”

But Addleshaw Goddard partner and property head Jane Hollinshead agreed that it “seems pretty clear that localism is out of favour”. 

“The emphasis is now on getting planning permission granted with local planning authorities being bypassed if they are not co-operative. We expect to see more applications being determined by the Planning Inspectorate through a streamlined appeals process.”

“Commercial and affordable housing projects will for the first time be included in ‘nationally significant projects’ where the application goes straight to the Inspectorate.”

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