Reform of the Planning System

As Co-Chair of the DCLG Parliamentary Policy Committee I am pleased that Motion F5 ‘Reform of Planning’ will be before Conference on Saturday 8th March. The members of our committee are very clear that a pledge for 300,000 homes per year to be built (Federal Conference motion September 2012) requires planning permission for 300,000 homes per year!

Do Liberal Democrats have the political will to address our housing crisis?  Do we only have that will as long as the homes are not in our own backyards?  We present our motion for debate with the belief that the answer to the first question is ‘yes’ and with clear proposals to enhance localism and tackle ‘Nimbyism’.

Before producing this motion we consulted widely. Following brainstorming sessions we launched a consultation via Lib Dem Voice and via the Lib Dem LGA on key issues. We had a further consultation with about 100 interested councillors from across England in Local Government House in November last year. At that meeting we launched a booklet, ‘Planning -Problem or Solution?’  which is a collection of essays from Lib Dem Councillors, academics and others put together for us by the LGIU.

We have consulted widely with professional bodies – the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and also environmental bodies – Campaign to Protect Rural England, The Woodland Trust and others and held two round table discussion events in the House of Commons. We have involved Shelter and the National Housing Federation. CentreForum has provided administrative support.

Party members including Lord Matthew Taylor, Cllr Keith House, Cllr Tom Papworth, Cllr Chris Naylor, Paul Burall, and many others have made enormous contributions. It has been a long, hard and rewarding process to reach the stage we are at without the assistance of paid staff (as with an FPC commissioned policy group) and we are enormously grateful to everybody who has helped us.

The key principles in the motion are:

Notwithstanding the successful implementation of the affordable homes programme by the Coalition Government, there has been a failure over more than three decades of new housing provision to meet the need for new homes in a growing and ageing population. Current delivery rates of around 140,000 homes a year is over 100,000  homes a year short of those needed to keep up with the  growth in housing need, and is less than half the level needed to also address the backlog of homelessness and prevent further unsustainable house price rises. We need to address this failure and ensure local decision making plays a key role in delivering the 300,000 new homes per year that we need. At the same time we wish to see the strengthening and enhancement of local sustainable communities.

The key proposals to deliver 300,000 homes per year include:

Strategic planning co-operation beyond the boundaries of individual planning authorities within sub regions formed from partnerships of local authorities. Such partnerships will be required to produce joint plans to meet housing, economic and infrastructure needs, with democratic representation. The plans will be devised using a bottom up approach, with enhanced neighbourhood planning within local authorities. Community involvement in identifying and supporting housing sites and other land uses within a local area at an early stage is essential. Local choices must be made.

Local authorities and partnerships will be allowed the choice of addressing their housing need through the creation of new Garden Communities (10,000 plus) reducing the pressure on all green spaces within a settlement and land immediately around existing built up areas. These will be based on 21st century garden city principles; providing the jobs, facilities, and services the community needs to be sustainable. Land will be secured for the new communities through the powers of the new Towns Act. The difference in land values before and after planning permission is granted will be captured to invest in the community and provide compensation to existing residents and landowners.

We particularly want to thank Lord Matthew Taylor for his contribution on this issue.

We do support the principle of Garden Cities (a much larger scale version of our Garden Communities). They will have the capacity to further address our housing needs in the long run.

The motion is of necessity fairly short and so we have produced a Paper which expands on our proposals and includes many other ideas. We now present this Paper for further consultation. We envisage that Liberal Democrat Planning Policy will continue to evolve as we receive further submissions and we will complete the document by the end of July.  Please do send any of your thoughts on the Paper and planning reform in general to [email protected] by the end of May 2014.

Annette Brooke MP, Co-Chair and on behalf of the Liberal Democrat DCLG Parliamentary Policy Committee

* Annette Brook is the Liberal Democrat MP for Dorset and North Poole.

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17 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 4th Mar '14 - 6:19pm

    A target of building 300,000 homes a year is great. Unfortunately the motion will make it more difficult to build homes as most of it strengthens the hand of NIMBYs who as we know aere very powerful in blocking developments.

  • Little Jackie Paper 4th Mar '14 - 6:40pm

    Well…NIMBY is a problem, but I would suggest that the much-overlooked part of the equation is who actually buys what does get built. Would building mansions (generally advertised overseas) really help anything for the bulk of today’s young PAYE classes? Does having new-builds all hoovered up by BTL landlords or foreign money really solve the problems of insecure housing and spiralling prices? Building is one thing, but who it is that actually buys matters too. The idea of discriminating in favour of certain buyers may well offend some sensibilities, but perhaps the time has come to at the very least ask the question.

    NIMBY I would suggest nowadays is a different issue. NIMBYs may very well have good points to make, however they rarely take any interest in viable alternative suggestions for society at large. That’s the problem. Inevitably one NIMBY success is another planning fight elsewhere.

    Truly radical approaches to housing like expropriating unused or underused properties or brownfield sites over the wishes of owners if need be seldom appeals to NIMBY groups who by and large their rights as property owners rather more than they value meeting real needs.

    Indeed, it is the great oddity of Thatcherism – it saw inflation as the great evil, but houseprice inflation didn’t seem to be any problem at all.

  • Shirley Campbell 4th Mar '14 - 7:57pm

    “Nimbyism”, please explain! Is “nimbyism” a term used when one’s personal space is encroached upon by social housing tenants who are given free range to abuse restrictive easements?

    Interestingly, Annette Brooke is a contemporary of mine; Romford, Essex, 1958, was a dynamic place. Yes, we did pass a scholarship, subsequently termed the 11 plus.

    My contemporaries may well dismiss so-called nymbies but they do not have to deal, personally, with the fall out caused by the wholesale destruction of the public housing sector begun by the Thatcher administration in the 1980s.

  • A lot of this sounds good. The authors clearly recognise that providing more housing does not necessitate town cramming or building on the Green Belt. There is plenty of scope for new building without damaging the historical and natural environments, or reducing the quality of life in already built-up areas, in any significant way.

    We are told that in London and the South-East the supply of vacant building land has been, or is about to be, exhausted. This is not the case. There is still plenty of brownfield land available, much of which has been lying idle for decades. Close to where I live there are more than 500 acres of vacant land which are of zero amenity or nature conservation value. 10 years ago, the developed part of the site was cleared, and 6 years ago about a third of it was laid out with roads and street-lighting. So far, only about 25% of it has been developed. The sad fact is that developers are generally only interested in building in areas where rich people want to live.

    The concept of garden cities is an old and a good one. The difficulty is finding the right sites to build them. I would suggest that much of the MOD estate could be released, since the newly slimmed down Army is not going to need all or even most of it. Another possible source is those parts of the country, like Cambridgeshire, which lack ancient landscapes and are characterised by large nucleated villages with a lot of space between them. Thetford Forest is a case in point. This is a featureless collection of conifer plantations of minimal commercial value. A whole city, and even an airport, could be built there without the loss of a single listed building.

    My one caveat is that the planners of future garden cities should learn the lesson of Milton Keynes and create environments that minimise the risk of getting lost!

  • Max Wilkinson 4th Mar '14 - 9:29pm

    Continuing to call for more housebuilding nationally, while steadfastly appearing to be against building on fields locally, is neither honest nor good politics.

    We always support local campaigns to ‘fight for residents’ and are ready adjust our local opinions to do so, regardless of the bigger picture. I’m sure our collective heart is in the right place, but the housing issue books down to tough choices that we may not be ready for.

  • Paul Westlake 4th Mar '14 - 9:51pm

    Sounds quit e good, but would be better with explicit support for the principle of transport oriented development: skew the distribution of new housing towards where existing roads and rail lines are.

  • As Simon McGrath points out this motion strengthens the hand of nimbys whilst simultaneously seeking to boost overall housing numbers. The housing shortage is not simply down to the lack of planning permissions.

  • Shirley Campbell 4th Mar '14 - 11:35pm

    As a feeble bystander, I am apt to question the concept of “nimbyism”,yet again, and again.

    I live in North Devon, Sir Nick Harvey’s constituency, and I know for a fact that a large number of houses have been built in this district over the past decade or so. Furthermore, I know for a fact that a large number of houses have been built in the neighbouring constituency of Torridge in the last decade or so. Seemingly, and in line with current legislation, a number of such houses would be earmarked as “affordable”. The issue is how do the legislators define affordable.

    Actually, house building in North Devon and Torridgeside must surely have reached epidemic proportions of late, but has the local job market kept pace with the increase?

  • Max Wilkinson 5th Mar '14 - 7:29am

    @Shirley

    Using language like ‘epidemic’ doesn’t help. Houses provide places for people to live. Houses are not a disease, they are good for society

    As an ex-local reporter, I found that this sort of language was commonplace in planning disputes. If residents and cllrs didn’t want a development, they would refer to a ‘tsunami’ of housing that had ‘ripped through a community’ or a ‘hurricane of development’.

    It’s just NIMBYism and I have no doubt our party is and will continue to be complicit, regardless of this motion.

  • I’m no expert, but personally I think there is a way of achieving both the required number of new houses and avoiding the steamroller approach. Two key things come to mind, firstly lots of small developments, so the number of houses added is in proportion to the number already in a settlement. Secondly, more creativity and innovation from house builders to create housing that is in keeping with the existing character of an area, rather than the same large identical estates plonked down all over the country. I think you’d get far fewer objections that way. The problem is that most modern housing is pretty ugly and lacking in character, so it’s not surprising people object.

  • How sustainable is the population growth?

    Every new house has an ecological footprint.

    What we should do, if we care for the environment is to maintain a housing stock that is fit for purpose, with good standards of insulation and energy efficiency.

    Modern houses are much better on the whole than old ones regarding energy efficiency. Some old houses are simply the wrong type of construction to be effectively brought up to the required standard.

    If we had a static population then we could have a rolling programme of new houses replacing decrepit and inadequate houses that cannot be brought up to standard. With a population that is increasing steeply we struggle to even keep up with demand. The result is fuel poverty and inadequate conditions for all too many.

  • With 212,000 net migration per year, and more people living alone, does that mean that we need two thirds of new housing just for the immigrants? Assuming a target of 300,000 per year.

    What bothers me perhaps more than the rising costs of houses and too many younger couples being priced out is the extra carbon footprint. Put it like this:

    The UK has a large per capita CO2 production. Of course we should each of us do what we can to minimise our own footprint. However how can it be right, from a CO2 perspective, for so many people to arrive from countries with low CO2 per capita, and when they are in the UK their individual CO2 production then increases.

    The atmosphere does not care which country the CO2 comes from, it is a disaster for the whole world ecosystem. Would it be better from that point of view to limit migration to the UK to be only from countries which have a similar per capita CO2 production to that of the UK?

  • peter tyzack 5th Mar '14 - 9:29am

    and whilst we are talking ‘planning’ we need to remember that none of this happens in neat silos.. we need to tackle 1) the property market (self regulated largely, but full of corrupt practices), the inexorable upward push of prices because everyone in the business is on commission, the ownership of Agents by the lenders so they only work for the lender and not the client (and they also own the surveyors and solicitors); 2) our tax system which charges no VAT on new build but standard rate VAT on a refurbishment or re-fit.. hence numerous properties which could be easily converted to decent apartments are either made into upmarket expensive places or just not embarked upon because the VAT in the project makes it uneconomic; 3) promise legislation to bring in Site Value Rating so that any property with development consent is rated as if it is developed from 12months after consent is granted. That will either encourage the owners to build or sell, and any unpaid rate due would become a charge against the value of the property so at the point of sale it gets paid(or the land transfers to the council at reduced price.

  • “Current delivery rates of around 140,000 homes a year is over 100,000 homes a year short of those needed to keep up with the growth in housing need”

    I’ve seen no evidence being presented that shows that “the planning system” is to blame for this – where is the evidence to show that 100,000+ planning applications for new housing are being rejected each year? I suggest if there really was this level of rejection, the major builders would be a lot more vocal than they are presently.

    “… the creation of new Garden Communities (10,000 plus) reducing the pressure on all green spaces within a settlement and land immediately around existing built up areas.”

    A totally daft idea – yes it may be ‘quaint’ but garden developments are very low density and a very poor usage of valuable land, not to mention all the other negatives. Also the evidence shows the need for housing is within our existing major cities and building new towns for the ‘overspill’ doesn’t solve the problem of demand for housing within our existing cities.

    “The difference in land values before and after planning permission is granted will be captured to invest in the community and provide compensation to existing residents and landowners.”

    Another poorly thought through idea. Just because the price someone is prepared to pay changes, doesn’t mean the ‘value’ of the land has changed. I also question the validity of the thinking behind the idea “captured to invest”, which is effectively a euphemism for tax/duty and hence can only serve to increase the costs and hence price of new build.
    I suggest rather than look at the increase price someone is prepared to pay as profit, you instead look at it as the moving of an off-the-balance-sheet asset onto the balance sheet.

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