Labour Plan to Get Out of Green Belts

Telegraph

A Labour government would not step in to prevent councils building on the green belt, under radical plans for the biggest transfer of power from London to the regions for more than 100 years.

Ed Miliband’s team will review national planning rules to ensure that every council in England contributes sites for the hundreds of thousands of new homes that are needed to ease the current housing “crisis”, the party said.
It will be left to individual councils to “weigh up” whether new estates should be built on so-called “brownfield” sites, which have been developed in the past, or potentially on unspoilt green fields or protected green belt land.
Hilary Benn, the Shadow Local Government and Communities Secretary, said he was a strong supporter of the green belt but could not promise to intervene to save it from development.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “I am very strongly committed to the green belt. It is for local communities to take those decisions – this is the really important point.

“Under the current system, if you take a bit of land out [of the green belt] you can replace it somewhere else, but that should be a local decision. It’s not a decision for me to make if I were to be in the post after the 2015 election.” England’s green belt covers over 6,000 square miles of countryside around towns and cities and is protected against development in order to prevent urban sprawl. But Mr Benn suggested that councils should be given more power to decide whether the need for new homes trumps the requirement to protect existing green belt land. “Everybody knows that we need more homes,” he said. The so-called “generation rent” of people in their 20s and 30s cannot afford to get a foot on the housing ladder unless more homes are built. Mr Benn confirmed that he would not scrap the Coalition’s National Planning Policy Framework but is ready to change parts of it to make sure all councils are living up to their “responsibility” to clear a path for the construction of thousands of new homes. “We would make sure all communities were properly identifying housing need because I think it’s a responsibility on everyone,” he said. The Coalition’s 52-page planning framework, which replaced more than 1,400 pages of guidance, was opposed by rural campaigners. Under the rules, councils in England have to publish and adopt local plans which set out where development can take place for the next five years. But many developers decide to ignore this and propose building in other areas, Mr Benn said. There are also concerns that some councils may not be identifying enough land for construction. Councils should be able to require developers to build on the sites which they have identified as appropriate, he said. Mr Benn’s proposal to devolve more power to “city and county regions” is intended to revive the Victorian spirit of locally-led developments which saw communities create parks, libraries, schools, clean water and sanitation. His plans are being billed as the most radical reversal of centralised control since the Local Government Act of 1888, which gave birth to modern local government structures of parishes grouping together into districts. Billions of pounds would be handed over to county regions, district groups and cities to spend on new railway or road schemes, joining up hospitals with elderly care services, job creation programmes for the long-term unemployed, and measures to boost local businesses. A “task force” on innovation in local government is due to report to the Labour leadership later this summer. It will propose detailed reforms for devolution which will save money and give people “more opportunity to do things for themselves” because “you can’t run everything from the centre”, Mr Benn said. “There is a crisis of confidence in our politics,” he said. “People feel alienated. They think that too many decisions are taken too far away from them. “They want a greater say and they don’t want to have to ask permission from the man in Whitehall to decide what they are going to do in their area, what they want to achieve. “I think in the wake of devolution in Scotland and Wales, which we did and which we are very proud of, my message is: it’s England’s turn.”

You have to hand it to Hilary – one minute scrapping the NPPF, the next reforming it, the next not changing it at all the next changing parts of it./  Lets look at his statement in more detail. Firstly he says he wont intervene on Green Belt decisions.  This implies no call ins or recoveries.  So Green Belt becomes purely a matter of local discretion.  What about the nation al test for removal of Green Belt land – very special/exceptional circumstances and all of that.  By saying that councils should be given more power here to ‘weigh up’ this matter again its suggests entirely local discretion.  The exceptional circumstances test going for one purely of planning balance.  For all intents and purposes this is the national government getting out of Green Belts, it becomes an entirely local matter, like a local Green Wedge Policy say with teh only difference being the NPPF being thre with its presumption against development if need be.  This is not scapping the Green Belt but what is is is scrapping National protection of the Green Belt for an optional protection if LPAs want it.

On housing need it is difficult to see how this would be any different to current NPPF policy with its strict requirement to identify housing need and meet it in full. What he might be suggesting in terms of ‘all councils’ is removing the option of Green Belt and other ‘constrained’ authorities to say part of their housing need should be met through the duty to cooperate.  Effectively scrapping it, and turning the ‘right to grow’ to a ‘requirement to grow.’  It is impossible to know if the option of this being met through a county or city region arrangement would be on the table or whether as at present this could only happen through unanimity – i.e. not at all, blocking Garden cities for example.
Again on requiring developers to build on sites in the local plan.  They can at the moment if there is a 5 year+ supply of viable and available sites.  His announcments would only be a policy change if he proposes to drops any of these three requirements – is he?
Again Labour is obtuse and confused on planning policy missing a clear opportunity to be pro growth but pro smart growth and open up some sustinable water between themselves and the coalition on planning policy.  Hiliary a tip, read Peter Halls Book, Good Cities Better Lives, hop on a plane to the continent and learn how progressive regimes manage to build far more housing than we do and still make it sustainable and high quality.  Dont be bound by the conservative government cant do anything narrative.

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