Is the TCPA right that ‘Permission in Principle’ could have Rascist Outcomes?

Planning Resource

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) caused some controversy last month when its head of policy Dr Hugh Ellis raised concerns over government plans to grant permission in principle on certain sites, comparing it to zonal planning in countries such as the USA….

Ellis warned in a committee session last month that introducing zonal panning has been problematic elsewhere, and had ended up in the US Supreme Court 25 times since 1920 “because of (its) explicit use for racist purposes”. He called on the committee to “ask officials how much work they did in comparing other zonal planning systems across the world in relation to those implications”. Tory MP Stewart Jackson said Ellis’s comment was “frankly ridiculous”, while Lewis described the remarks as “inflammatory” and “ill-advised”.

Hugh’s comments were more than a little unfocussed.

Certainly the history of zoning in the US, unlike on the continent, has been marred by a desire for racial exclusion.  What began as a means of improving the  environment in which people lived and worked,became a mechanism for protecting property values and excluding undesirables.  The two groups that were regarded as the undesirables were immigrants and African Americans.

In the first years of the twentieth century it was quite common to have ‘exclusionary zoning’ which pronibted for example black people buying houses in white majority areas.  This was ruled unconstitutional in 1917, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared a Louisville, Kentucky racial zoning ordinance unconstitutional in Buchanan v. Warley.

Restrictions on lot size and other zoning measures which may have an indirect racially exclusionary impact have been found lawful.  ‘Inclusionary zoning’ (affordable housing) ordinances have, so far, also been found legal and ordnances which prevent any kind of housing affordable to a particular racial group have also been found to be unlawful.

However the Equalities Act 2010 Part 2 would prohibit zoning which is directly or indirectly discriminatory to any of its protected groups.   The rational response of the minister would be to rfer to this.

A greater concern is the refusal by the current government to introduce secondary legislation to embed the ‘social economic disadvantage test under part 1 of the 2010 act.   The big risk is the use of zoning to freeze out change in an area, such as densification and infill.

Whilst I dont think the shift to a zoning and subdivision systemn is well thought out this is alarmist talk by the TCPA.

If we are to have aa proper and rational zoning systemn however it needs more than the half baked ‘permission in principle’ clause.  It requires the kind opf measures to ensure that the system doesn’t embed corruption or social advantage and is transprent, for example a no spot zoning without public review clause is essential.  Similarly if simplification is the real aim you would ban planning applications in zoned areas as duplication of powers and introduce a system for applying for rezoning with all of the public review ramifications this would imply.



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