Everyone benefits from a planning system that is efficient and effective – enabling the homes, jobs and facilities that communities need while minimising uncertainty for those promoting or affected by development.
The development of the National Planning Policy Framework, reducing 1,300 pages of planning policies in 44 separate documents to just 50 pages, has been widely welcomed. It will ensure that every area has a clear local plan which sets out local people’s views of how they wish their community to develop, consistent with the Framework, and against which planning applications for planning permission will be judged.
Less popular, among Liberal Democrats, have been the further announcements made on 6th September.
Of particular concern have been;
- Proposals to increase the size of single storey home extensions that can be built without planning permission,
- Proposals to facilitate re-negotiations of Section 106 agreements for “stalled sites” (on the grounds that some development is better than no development),
- Proposals to remove planning powers for particularly “poor performing” councils.
These proposals were agreed by the coalition after much negotiation; a negotiation in which Liberal Democrats sought and obtained, among other assurances, guaranteed extra money (£300 million) and extra “loan guarantees” (£10 billion) to ensure more new affordable homes could be built than would be lost through any S106 renegotiations.
However, consultation about the details of these proposals is now under way and I hope as many people as possible will respond. After my discussions with numerous LibDem colleagues in local government, I’m certain they will be making their views known!
As I said at Party Conference, the details of each proposal are not “a done deal”.
I hope, for example, that there will be opportunities to explore the role of “Article 4 Directives” for councils who may wish to limit the extension of Permitted Development rights for home extensions.
I also hope those who respond to the consultation will consider the need for:
- independent verification of claims by developers of the “unviability” of their sites because of “over burdensome” S106 agreements,
- consideration of the extra funds now available being used to help some of the stalled sites going ahead as planned (not least to ensure “mixed” developments),
- measures that tackle “land banking”. It surely cannot be acceptable for developers to be given planning permission in perpetuity for a site on which they meet the “work started” criteria by merely digging a few holes and then stopping.
Whatever views may come forward about plans to strip “poor performing” councils of their planning rights, I hope Liberal Democrats will point to the research showing how well our own councils are doing.
Of the slowest 10% of English Councils for determining major applications within 26 weeks, 63.3% are Conservative, 23.3% are Labour, 13.3% are in no overall control while none are Liberal Democrat. Even if all applications are considered, Liberal Democrat councils hardly figure (3.3%) in the list of the worst performing councils.
Given how well most of our councils are in the field of planning, their views on the latest proposals deserve to be heard.
* Don Foster is MP for Bath, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Coalition Deputy Chief Whip.