Don Foster MP writes… Hear the views of Lib Dem councils on planning issues

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.

Take part in the consultation here.

* Don Foster is MP for Bath, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Coalition Deputy Chief Whip.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Hate to nit pick, but that penultimate paragraph – isn’t this because we control fewer councils than our larger opponents?

  • Dominic Curran 13th Nov '12 - 1:51pm

    Thanks for this piece, Don.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that Article 4 directions have been proposed by the Government as a panacea to every concern over every change to the planning system suggested over the past 2.5 years (and there have been lots), and they really aren’t always appropriate or practical.

    Whenever a Minister comes up with a new idea that makes actual planning practitioners wince and hold their head in their hands (neighbour extensions are just the latest example), Ministers always say ‘oh, don’t worry, Article 4 means they don’t have to apply to you’. Well, Article 4 directions are a time-consuming, bureacratic and expensive route to go down. They involve extensive consultation, Secretary of State oversight and monitoring/reporting, and, most significant, payment of compensation to people whose rights have been curtailed by an Article 4 Direction’s use.

    Don, please either look into ways of making A4s easier and cheaper to use, or please ask colleagues to stop suggesting that councils can easily use them as a line of defence against locally inappropriate planning policies imposed by DCLG.


  • Helen Dudden 13th Nov '12 - 2:44pm

    Don in your constituancy we have no housing strategy, and last night on the a tv programme, is showed the problems for those who are disabled and want a home.

    I can verify the need to build, and produce better homes in your area. You are aware of my situation.

    Perhaps ,you will answer when there will be a strategy, and when there will be further homes built that are much needed.

    The programme was on the BBC @ 7.30pm last night.

    This is simply not for the only Lib Dems in your area, there are others too, in fact others who simply wish somewhere to live.

  • The reforms do not go anywhere near far enough.

  • Land banking is also a result of the planning process. If it takes ages to get what starts as an idea through what used to be Local Plans, then Strategic Plans and so on before getting even as far as development control, only the biggest companies can really take that sort of risk on. This squeezes out competition that would enable smaller builders to build, reducing quality and increasing price as it does so.

    Also landbanking is not nearly as much of a problem as people like to make out. The big four builders have about five years’ worth of land with permission on their balance sheets. They can’t afford to hold much more (I’ve seen ridiculous claims of up to fifty years, but it’s all verifiable in annual reports etc), and with the interminably slow system they operate under and long lead times on development anyway they do, like any other producer of anything, have to have stock of raw materials. There’s no “just in time” delivery system for land with planning permission, would that there were.

    And frankly, Lib Dem councils wanting to prevent people using their *own* property for whatever by restricting “permitted development” rights should be ashamed. The only restriction I would put on them would be that it cannot result in a subdivision or change of use without permission.

    The planning system is purely about restricting supply and rent-seeking by existing owners. It impoverishes most, ultimately, by doubling their debts to buy a home and so on. Yet they’ll still scream blue murder over a conservatory or a bit of field they neither own nor have rights to.

    Liberals knew 100 years ago what to do with greedy landowners. Just because the greedy landowners are now 90% of the population instead of 10% should make no difference at all.

  • Oh, and to Dominic:

    “Article 4 directions are a time-consuming, bureacratic and expensive route to go down. They involve extensive consultation, Secretary of State oversight and monitoring/reporting, and, most significant, payment of compensation to people whose rights have been curtailed by an Article 4 Direction’s use.”

    So they should IMO. You *are* preventing people doing what they want with their own property. Curtailing such a right should be rare and yes, involve compensating them for the right you have taken away if it succeeds.

  • Roger Roberts 14th Nov '12 - 10:44am

    There are many small developers who dont land bank but are frustrated by councils who appear to find any nit picking reason to send plans back and forth asking for this and that to be done and then saying that it was done two years ago we need new information whilst avoiding making a decision. This cost small developers a lot of money which they cannot afford and therefore the land is left.. There are times when the right of appeal to theinspector needs to be made easier. That includes council planners that avoid making a decision by throwing up spurious points that cost money to resolve

  • Dominic Curran 14th Nov '12 - 5:02pm

    A central point point of the planning system is to prevent people doing what they like to their property without regard to others. That’s why your neighbour can’t sell his house and turn it into an abbatoir. We all have to find a way to live in harmony and that involves some mediation between conflicting desires, which planning (or rather, the development control element of it) seeks to do.

    Anyway, i think you missed my point. I wasn’t saying that people shouldn’t be compensated, but rather that the government, is suggesting that we shouldn’t be worried about any given planning reform because Article 4 could apply in their area, is either misled, or is misleading, abut how practical a ‘defence’ that really is for local authorities. in reality, it’s very hard thing to apply.

  • Dominic Curran 14th Nov '12 - 5:14pm

    Jock, if you lived between two people who extended their houses into their back gardens either side of yours by 20 feet, i suspect you’d have something to say about it. Under these proposals, you would not have any oportunity to object to that. Are you really saying that people have no right to have a say about things that would significantly and materially affect them in this way?

    The planning system isn’t about ‘restricting supply’ per se, although it certainly was introduced with an aim of preventing the massive loss of open land and countryside to endless urban sprawl. It’s also about positive planning, ie saying ‘this goes here and that goes there’. Under essentially this planning system we actually had enough homes for the population, broadly in the right places, by the 1980s, but have fallen behind ever since, not least because the state stopped building council housing. The private sector has no interest whatsoever in meeting the nation’s housing need – that would, after all, bring prices , and therefore profits, down.

    I would, however, agree with you that landbanking isn’t the mischief many think, but it’s also fair to say that the major housebuiders aren’t on the whole interested in building houses. Their annual reports all talk about how much more interested they are in ‘margin’ than ‘volume’ – in other words, build fewer high value exec homes not more first-timer properties. They basically operate a massive cartel, partly from playing the planning permissions casino game, and various govt initiatives to bail out the industry should have been abandonded and instead we should have let moral hazard apply and see them go to the wall.

  • Helen Dudden 15th Nov '12 - 8:05am

    There was little comments on building regulations, put in place to protect the unwise on the planned building they, may feel to be suitable.

    There has to be some control, it takes a little longer than a few months to learn about building.

    I suggest there is more working together of councillors, and we get , and achieve things like traveller sites, and the house building that is needed.

  • I know very well what planning and development control “seeks” to do. Years on a planning committee and subsequently trying to get agreement to build affordable housing, however, tells me it doesn’t work well and nor is it required. You have no right as a neighbour to views into, across or over my property. However tort law ought to be sufficient to deal with any actual harm done to neighbouring properties (indeed the tort system worked very well for controlling nuisance uses such as abattoirs as you mention them) rather than having to jump through hoops put in place by professional meddlers.

    The TCPA ’47 was indeed about restricting development. One of its most fundamental principles was that ownership would no longer be sufficient grounds on which to develop land, but would need permission from some town hall panjandrum and to make way for the omniscient designers of the modern movement (such as Abercrombie) in playing God with where and how people ought to be allowed to live.

    The irony is that it is planning that keeps land scarce and therefore expensive and makes it harder for developers to make decent margins (if your market can afford 200k for a home and you have to pay 100k per plot you’ve only got 100k to play with to make your real development margins as opposed to land value uplifts which are wiped out by having to pay more for the next site).
    …apply I think. And for more detail about how a fully privatised system might work…

  • Oh, and don’t get me started on Building Regs. Look if people are determined to put up rubbish they will find a way regardless of building regs. Herbert Spencer traces the origins of the very slums the Booths mapped out to the London Building Act of 1844 in which materials were specified in response to lobbying by producers of bricks, timber and so on such that it became too expensive for landlords to develop housing for the very poorest so they stopped keeping it up to scratch while they shifted to developing for middle class occupiers who could afford to pay the bit more (including tariffs on materials) the new building regs demanded. Well meaning (if laden with special interests all the same) it may have been, but it was a disaster for affordable housing.

  • Dominic Curran 15th Nov '12 - 12:37pm

    jock – tort law will only help once the abbatoir has been built, a bit late for most. it’s not a viable option.

    and we don’t have high house prices becuase of the planning system – it seems you’ve ben captured by the shrill self-interested voices of the major house(non)builders and policy exchange. house prices tripled between 1997-2010 nort because the plannig system fundamentally changed, not indeed because demand tripled, but because, mainly, of loose lending and lots of credit swishing about the system.

    jock – i’m assuming you’re not a libdem, unless you’re mark littlewood’s mini me? (which definitely doesn’t make you a libdem)

  • Peter Andrews 15th Nov '12 - 2:25pm

    Jock is a Lib Dem and it easy to tell given his name is in yellow with a bird of liberty logo next to it

  • Tort would do fine. Especially if you enabled anyone in the process to be co-defendants – what architect would manage a project that might lead him to court? What builder? Solicitor/conveyancer? Plenty of people take the risk today and go for “retrospective” applications.

    Been captured by the shrill self interested voiced of the major house builders? ROFL 🙂

    Oh, and that Littlewood – is a statist shill 🙂

  • Dominic Curran 16th Nov '12 - 1:50pm

    Peter, that doesn’t make someone a libdem! Although in fairness, looking at our last three years in government, I’m not sure what being a libdem means anymore anyway.

    Jock- tort law is still far less effective than a plan that says ‘don’t build abbatoirs( or specified land/building uses) in A given area. If you look at the most desirable and liveable cities in the world, they have all been planned to a greater or lesser extent. Edinburgh, barcelona, Paris, even the great estates of London, all planned out. Your extreme aliases faire approach is a recipe for disaster, except for expensive lawyers, who would be put of the reach of poorer people adversely affected by your free market ideology.

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