I was critical last year when the project which became ‘The Community Right to Build’ was announced.
The project was properly launched today and backed by a host of amendments to the localism bill in the Lords. Credit where credit is due I think the revised scheme is broadly workable and a vast improvement.
Basically the localism bill will create a system similar to neighbourhood development orders. The proposals will need to be in line with the strategy of the development plan, there will be a quickfire examination (written reps) and then a referendum with a 50% threshold. Proposals may not undermine EU directives – a key criticism before.
The cyncics may say this is too bureaucratic and why not simply apply for planning permission.
The reason I think it could be important is twofold. Firstly even the smallest schemes of affordable housing in rural areas seem to run into huge opposition and many ‘exceptions sites’ fall away after initial parish enthusiasm. The route typically requires RSL involvement which creates fears of the ‘wrong sort’ – usually quite unfounded as shared equity schemes for locally qualified occupants are the norm. Landowners are often reluctant to sell as they will make very little money as with exception sites you cant cross subsidise with market housing. Hence philanthropy slips away and landowners simply promote market village housing through the SHLAA route.
This scheme could undercut that in that the schemes will be locally driven (whilst still retaining due planning control) the local will come to understand themselves the delivery, local controls options open to them and negotiate a mutally beneficial scheme with the landowner, where some discount on the open market value pays for the construction costs.
Local planning authorities will be keen to ensure that it is not just a scam for country landowners to build houses for themselves in the countryside by ensuring that communities put in place legal arrangements such as community land trusts. It is encouraging that the Depts lealfet lists all the right bodies.
Finally the backstop of a referendum will ensure that the Nimbys and Nimtos don’t dominate debate in front of easily swayed councillors.
This is the first positive non planner bashing, and communitarian, initiative by the new government.