Opinion: Cash in your pocket or green fields on your doorstep?

Cash in your pocket or green fields on your doorstep?

Does anyone think the planning system is working? I don’t and neither do many communities and local councils. Ministers certainly don’t think so. Buried in the National Infrastructure Plan published on Tuesday are proposals for more planning reform (pdf). They are bad proposals.

One plan is to set up a specialist court to deal with planning disputes. That’s a good idea, but as with so much legislation under this government, the detail undermines the principle (for example, the Lobbying and Antisocial Behaviour bills). What the government is really aiming for here is to cut the number of judicial reviews. It even intends to take some appeals direct to the Supreme Court – a process that will bulldoze our tradition of working through a legal argument in successive courts.

What the government fails to understand is that communities are being driven to judicial reviews out of a frustration with a planning system that too often denies them an effective voice. Eric Pickles and his planning inspectors all too often tramp all over communities and these days almost anything goes when a council lacks a five year land supply or can’t get a local plan through the planning inspectorate.

The government wants to make it a statutory requirement for councils to have an up-to-date local plan. This is token gesture that will make no difference while local plans are bogged down by the convoluted planning system. Only this week, a planning inspector threw out the Mid Sussex local plan without even examining its housing targets. His argument was that the paperwork did not demonstrate that procedures had been followed correctly. Why don’t we have a system where planning inspectors help councils rather lord over them?

The government has also announced that it is to reward – some would say bribe – households for accepting development on their doorstep. What’s it to be? Cash in your pocket or green fields on your doorstep? This is nothing other than a recipe to tear communities apart as those that care for planned, sustainable development are undermined by neighbours that need to pay off their credit card bills.

So what should we do with planning?

The Liberal Democrat communities and local government parliamentary committee has recently published Planning – Problem or Solution? My contribution was tightly focused on localism.

Top of my list of my list of reforms are:

¨        We need a legal right to localism. Eric Pickles’ type interference in local decisions must be restricted to ensure that decisions are made at the most local level practical.

¨        A community right to appeal should be allowed where the local plan has been breached; the decision is in substantial conflict with the National Planning Policy Framework or other national or European policies. English Heritage and English Nature would have the same rights.

¨        The planning inspectorate should be removed to an arm’s length from the government. It must be overseen by a board drawn equally from local government; Whitehall; the planning professions; developers; and, not least, communities.

¨        We need to clarify the difference between planning policy and guidance. Of late, the government has spoken of planning guidance as being rules, policy in all but name. Guidance should a guide, no more.

Planning is always going to be frustrating. But we can achieve much more if we don’t waver over localism. And if localism is to survive and thrive, central government intervention must be restricted to matters of national importance and communities allowed to plan for their own needs.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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21 Comments

  • The problem with communities being left to focus entirely on their own immediate needs is that this disenfranchises those who would like to move into the area. And why shouldn’t people benefit financially from planning and development gains around them? I can’t see how we’re going to build 300,000 homes a year if voters have no incentive not to be NIMBYs. Lib Dem policy of community land auctions would be a good start.

  • Established communities basically oppose everything, sometimes reasonably but often out of self-interest. And the more well-heeled a community is, the louder they shout. The Nimbyism movement has its successes and defeats, but the overall pattern is that they’re making it harder and harder to get every successive home built, resulting in decades of under-development in the places where new homes are most needed. I don’t want to deny them a voice, but the group that is totally and utterly ignored in planning are the people who need homes. Campaigns like Yes To Homes and PricedOut (of which I’m a director) are trying to change this, but we need far more support if we’re going to add some much-needed balance to planning.

    It’s Lib Dem policy to build 300,000 homes per year. Nimbyists will do everything they can to thwart this ambition. If it gets the homes we need built then silencing Nimbys with cash sounds good to me.

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 6th Dec '13 - 11:29am

    The thrust of this article sums up everything that’s wrong with the Lib Dem approach to housing. We should be supporting those in need, not NIMBYs who have nice houses next door to fields.

    Our stance favours wealthy, middle aged and elderly homeowners who largely have no interest in anything other than maintaining their house value and not ruining their pleasant view. The facts of the housing crisis are ignored in favour of cheap Focus headlines and cynical vote-buying. We need to make the positive case for building homes on the right areas, not pandering to populism.

  • Robert Wootton 6th Dec '13 - 11:45am

    At a Planning committee meeting this week, it was said that a Planning Officer informed a meeting that when a area is designated for housing development in a Local Plan, then there is no point in opposing or refusing planning permission for a development in the area. Also developers have started refusing to accept Section 106 conditions and appealing against them and winning. And the Communities minister can over rule everybody.

    So what is the point of a local Planning department. What is Localism about?

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 6th Dec '13 - 11:45am

    P.S. Housing IS a matter of national importance.

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 6th Dec '13 - 11:52am

    @Robert,
    Localism is about empowering people who don’t want any more houses built.

  • People want powers, that if they existed X years ago, would have been used to stop their own houses from being built.

    Instead powers should be focused on forcing changes to a development to make it more “compatible” with an area, not simply stopping development, and not forcing endless levies on the construction which just further re-enforces absurdly high living costs.

  • “What the government fails to understand is that communities are being driven to judicial reviews out of a frustration with a planning system that too often denies them an effective voice.”

    I’d echo comments by Duncan and Maximillian. ‘Communities’ (or rather, the people who complain) are given all too effective a voice. We won’t be able to build the 200k-300k houses we should really be in the UK and satisfy the people who can always be relied upon to object at the same time.

  • @Robert Wootton
    An alternative approach that has been tried in my area, is for the developer to gain permission for the development of 5,000 houses, on a site without suitable access, and then turn round to the Council and say that since they will be having to provide x amount of social housing would the council compulsory purchase the land and properties between their site and the various access roads. The scary thing was that the Council actually seriously considered it!

    So all those who complain about NIMBY’s, I do hope that you will be warmly shaking the hand of the council and developer who have compulsory purchased your property so that it can be replaced by a tranche of social housing…

  • David Allen 6th Dec '13 - 4:34pm

    Andy Boddington,

    You have previously argued for much more housebuilding to meet need. Yet now you want to put locals in control, which as pointed out by previous posters means in practice, putting NIMBYs in control. You also reject “bribery”, a financial incentive to permit building in your locality – which, whatever its demerits, would at least give the pro-development side a chance to win the argument locally. I can’t see how all these positions can possibly hang together and make a coherent policy, I’m afraid.

    My own take is to distinguish between affordable housing and the rest. Affordable housing is not built to meet market demand, because the poorer people who need it do not have money and cannot create market demand. Their needs get missed. Localists too often won’t want to help them either. So we need nationally imposed targets, and we need to override “liberal” NIMBYs who want “local freedom” to avoid building affordable housing.

    By contrast, “executive” housing and the like is built to meet market demand. If not much is being built, that is because there isn’t much demand. There is no need to force communities to build more than the market calls for. So in this case the NIMBYs may as well be allowed a good measure of local power. Their goals (preserving the natural environment) are, after all, partly high-minded, albeit mixed in with self-interest. We should be sceptical of national building targets on non-affordable housing.

  • The most local level possible is the owner of the land. When so many young people can’t find places to start families, there should be a rule that unless it is a historical conservation area or SSI, it should always be allowed to build housing next to already existing housing. Free markets should also work in favour of young people too sometimes.

  • Peter Davies 6th Dec '13 - 11:54pm

    I agree with Duncan that if bribery is what it takes, we should do it. We have a “new homes bonus” that rewards councils that see an increase in homes. It needs to rise until enough new homes are getting the go-ahead. We also need to allow councils more control of their own finances so there is a real local democratic choice. If you vote nimby you will pay more council tax. We also need Land Value Tax to make building more profitable than land-banking.

  • Peter Tyzack 7th Dec '13 - 10:30am

    the impasse between localism and Nimbyism is surely resolved by having a community development plan.. which is what all communities are supposed to be working towards. Let’s get them in place and working before we make any other major changes to the planning process.
    Policy already allows an extension to development boundaries where there is a demonstrable local need, and in every area if an applicant can provide special circumstances then the Planning Committee can grant consent. Problem is, too many councillors are watching their backs (or the next election) instead of doing the job they are put there to do.

  • nvelope2003 7th Dec '13 - 10:46am

    Perhaps we should consider limiting the growth of the population. Is it so terrible to want to preserve green fileds and beautiful countryside which does not have to be a SSI or Conservation area ? Some people feel claustrophobic if they are hemmed in by buildings. Many feel depressed without some green spaces but most people have no interest in this aspect. I was happy to grow up in the country but I did miss out on many things by not living in a town. I feel sorry for those young people who are forced by their parents to live in villages where there is little for them to do but the parents want them kept away from drugs or so they say – what a hope – the villages are awash with drugs and booze as there is so little for young people. Leave the villages to us oldies and let the young enjoy the towns and cities.

    The Liberal Democrats on this site seem to have become a branch of the Communist Party with their desire to force things on a reluctant population and ignore or ridicule all opposition.

  • Ed Shepherd 7th Dec '13 - 11:03am

    A good article. Green fields, please. Not much point in having a few quid in cash if you have to drive in a car to a small park in order to walk the dog and there’s nowhere for the kids to roam.

  • It seems that this thread is about the new Toryism (countryside Lib Demism) of keeping everything in the countryside as it is. Isn’t that what Localism is about? The countryside Tory-Lib Dem battleground is about no change? Do correct me if I am wrong about it as I live on the edge of the Green Belt and see what Localism people in my area want – they want no change. And they are actually Tories, flip flopping to whoever gives them the best deal in a manifesto. I would hope that Lib Dems have a better set of principles including helping those who need somewhere to live in their local area. How do Localists equate their “no change” with providing new housing for local young people? Or any young people?

  • Selfish NIMBY localism, building enough homes for the population and protecting every bit of green belt are mutually incompatible. I have been appalled locally by signs say ‘ [ insert name of local area here] against homes’. Not just houses – homes!
    In my area the council has done a good job at getting brown-field land developed first but there simply isn’t enough left to go anywhere near the local target for new homes ( which I believe to be pretty accurate even though the NIMBYs contest this).
    We all seem to have forgotten that we all live on ex-greenfield sites.
    The field opposite my home has been offered up by the landowner when the council asked for potential sites. It is joined onto another site already in the local plan and would make the access much easier. I’m going to campaign for 100% social and affordable housing on it!

  • Richard Sangster 8th Dec '13 - 11:41am

    Because of Nimbyism, left to there own devices, local councils would have a greater tendency not to permit new building, apart from hideous extensions. Therefore, in the absence of a system of regional governance in this country, parameters, within which local councils make planning decisions, have to be made by central government. The fact ,that central government is somewhat remote, gives rise to a certain level of friction.

  • I like all the NIMBY’s in denial that are posting here, complaining about those people who have actually engaged with their local planning system.

    If you are pro-development and don’t like the opposition, I suggest you what Tilly is proposing to do – campaign for development local to you and which will impact your quality of life. Until then you are just a NIMBY.

    But taking Tilly’s example further, not knowing Tilly’s area and the nature of the proposed development, what Tilly is proposing (100% social and affordable housing) could actually be a better use of the land and better satisfy local need than what the developer is wanting to do. Therefore is Tilly a NIMBY for opposing the plans as submitted? Given some of the comments here the answer is Yes!!!

  • Max Wilkinson 8th Dec '13 - 2:49pm

    @nvelope2003

    You seem to be advocating enforced birth control and restrictions on the free market.

    What could be more communist than that?

    @Roland

    I’ve made my views clear to my local party.

    @Ed Shepherd

    Why do you think that building more homes is inconsitent with having local parks?

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