How Might Labour Reconcile Localism and Meeting the Housing Shortage?

From the Guardian. today on the below peice ‘[we are] trying to move away from heavy political pieces in this brief lull between conferences and autumn statement.’  So I guess then more photos of Kim Kardashian in a bikini then as they move towards Daily Mail territory/  So here it is.

Journalist Isobel Hardman reports (31/10) that

So great is Tory discontent over [decisions on housing numbers being taken by the planning inspectorate] I hear Labour is developing its own model of localism for its 2015 manifesto, with a new name and a promise to give local people a “real say”

Writing in the Telegraph on the 8th June Shadow SoS Hilary Benn said

Local communities should decide where they want new homes and developments to go and then give their consent in the form of planning permission. It’s the difference between having a say and having it done to you… I believe communities can make these decisions for themselves.

But at the Labour Party conference great play was made about raising housebuilding rates to 200,000 a year (though less than the over 240,000 a year from household growth we need without considering any backlog)

Guardian Sept 24th 2013

Sir Michael Lyons…will lead a review designed to ensure that an incoming government he leads will be able to swiftly draw up housing reform legislation….the commission will set out detailed plans to establish New Towns and Garden Cities.

At first sight then labour appears to be heading towards an election manifesto with two incompatible aims.  Firstly to localise decisions on housing targets, which like after the election will lead to a precipitous drop in houses planned for, and a commission to plan for new towns.  Labour sources at the conference said the commission would look at whether decisions on new towns should be centralised like national infrastructure and new business development of national importance.  One wonders if this apparent contradiction was why Jack Dromey MP left the shadow housing position?

This Janus faced approach was of course exactly the position of conservative shadow ministers before the last election.  Caroline Spelman was writing to conservative councils saying they could set what targets they liked at the same time as George Osborne was giving speeches that said planning was holding back the number of houses built.  The conservatives though had worked out how to reconcile these competing objectives.   The Henley MP  had written the policy paper ‘Open Source Planning’ which suggested that where locally set targets didn’t meet housing need then developers could as he later said to developers ‘build what they liked where they liked’ which was pretty much what was put in the National Planning Policy Framework after the election.  This policy may have outraged MPs like Nick Herbert who believed in a pure localism but it what the party had signed up to as policy.  There was no betrayal, only a cynical spinning of half and only half of the agreed policy.

Does labour have a game plan on how to reconcile these seemingly opposed policies?  Fully localising decisions on housing numbers would be difficult whilst retaining binding inspectors reports.  These are widely regarded in the planning profession as a great success as local authorities have been found to fix, fudge, lie and distort evidence on housing need.  I doubt that Hilary Benn is so Polyannish as to think this won’t happen.  An alternative would be to have binding reports on local housing need and then have local decisions on how much of was to be built locally.  Currently and without regional plans any such shortfall, such as current massive shortfalls in Birmingham and Lonson, have to be dealt with through a ‘duty to cooperate’ which in practice is more like a duty to fight like rats in a sack.  Labour propose a ‘right to expand’ for tightly bound towns, but this is likely to fall fowl of European law which requires a strategic environmental  assessment  and consultation on reasonable alternatives.  So this alone won’t be a fix.  What I suspect they are looking at allowing local authorities to hand any shortfall in housing over some some kind of national commission which would decide where New Towns and Garden Cities go – the risk of doing so would be to potentially get far more back and lose the funding for the new housing.  But again to comply with European law, but this will again require a strategic environmental assessment.  So you can’t get away from the need for proper larger than local plans even if they are clothed in other terms.

Reigate MP will Die to Protect Green Belt

Dorking Advertiser

Mr Blunt ..told a meeting attended by more than 200 people that he would “fight to the death” to protect the area’s green belt.

The Surrey branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) hosted the packed public meeting in Dorking on Friday night. CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said that development pressures are now so big that that Surrey needs a “sheer bloody-minded defence” of the green belt.

“Once it is gone, it is gone forever,” he said.

“Why is the north of England being neglected? Why is so much of the development being pushed into the South East and especially here in Surrey?” Mr Spiers asked.

Crispin Blunt has repeatedly questioned if housing targets in his constituency should “trump” the protection of the green belt. And he shares the CPRE’s concerns about the potential need for thousands of new homes if Gatwick wins permission to build a second runway.

It comes as the planning inquiry into Reigate and Banstead Borough Council’s core strategy – the blueprint which outlines where thousands of homes will be built in the borough up to 2027 – is set to be reconvened to deal with unresolved issues.

It originally sat for two weeks in May, amid a huge public outcry that areas of green belt could be eaten up for housing.

The inspector will return to Reigate for one day on December 10. The additional examination was triggered after another inspector, ruling on a planning application appeal, questioned if the council does have a five-year supply of land for housing.

He will also consider whether the Walton-on-the Hill and Kingswood areas should provide more land for housing.

A previous amendment to the draft strategy indicated that the Nork area could provide more homes.