What is Brandon Lewis’ Priority – Quicker, Simpler Permissions or More Housing?

FT 10th June

In a nod to the Conservative party’s drive to liberalise the planning regime, Mr Lewis also signalled that he was looking for new ways to free small housebuilders from excessive regulation.

The government has “no big plans” for “surprise changes” to the national planning framework, but developers wanting to create up to five homes on small sites outside London — for example at the edge of villages and suburbs — should face a quicker, simpler planning regime, he said.
However, this should not undermine the quality of architectural design of new homes, Mr Lewis added.

Om a small plan then, and small it is.  Successive conservative spokesmen over many years have fantasied over scenarios that if only every village had ‘1 or 2’ or ‘1 to 5’ extra houses all would be ok. David Cameron gave a speech much teh same rather naively believing  this would be what the NPPF would produce.   The maths do not add up, there are not enough villages, around 10,000 or so only of which around 1/4 still have any reasonable services left at all.  With the NPPF we did not get ‘1-5’ but typically, 20, 30, 40 50 anything ip to several hundred or more and often completely out of scale.

The planning system in England is neither quick or simple and doesn’t deliver enough.  But delivering small sites more quickly will do little to deliver more indeed it could deliver less if it signals that policy is shifting away from large village sites to smaller ones and it produces a perverse incentive to go down a small sites route- financially and politically.  Why take the risk of going for 200 houses and having the site called in if a fast track route sure of 5 exists.  Just put in multiple 5 site applications forget about masterplanning.

This is yet another sign of Brandon Lewis being scared of size, too weak to take the big decisions to ensure we build enough housing.  It is cover for his pro-nimby bias, the mindset of a shire tory Councillor.  Such a mindset has had and will have only one outcome, building less and less housing.

How could it be made simpler?  Well there is only one thing at the moment which really makes every appeal complicated, demonstrating a 5 year supply, remove that requirement for small sites and extend the presumption.  Do that and you would get a flood of applications, but whilst such applications are still subject to appeal the onus would just shift to landscape and other objections.

The government at the moment is going through every alternative but allocating more big sites on undeveloped land.  Yes we can do more, such as redeveloping council estates etc.  but none of the numbers add up, all are hard, most will likely have perverse consequences given the immeasurable ability of the government to mess up planning regulatory reform, and with the diversion of planning effort and energy will likley simply accelerate the housing shortfall.

Whenever a planning minister gives a speech about small sites or soft targets you know they have missed the target through aiming in the wrong direction.