Guardian – Planning Shake Up Will Lead to Slums of Tommorrow


The biggest shake-up of planning for decades has caused fury that moves to fast-track the construction of “beautiful” homes across England will “dilute” democratic oversight, choke off affordable housing and lead to the creation of “slum” dwellings.

Under the proposals, unveiled on Thursday, planning applications based on pre-approved “design codes” would get an automatic green light – eliminating a whole stage of local oversight within designated zones.

Land across England would be divided into three categories – for growth, renewal or protection – under what Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, described as “once in a generation” reforms to sweep away an outdated planning system and boost building.

New homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices would be allowed automatically in “growth” areas. In “renewal” zones, largely urban and brownfield sites, proposals would be given “permission in principle” subject to basic checks. Green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty would be protected.

While the proposed changes are likely to appeal to developers, they prompted stinging criticism from housing charities, planning officers and architects who warned of a new generation of fast and substandard housing.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said the measures ‘cut red tape, but not standards’. Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty Images

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) condemned them as disruptive and rushed, saying 90% of planning applications are currently approved but there are up to 1m unbuilt permissions. Labour called it “a developers’ charter” that will “set fire to important safeguards”.

The long-awaited government white paper touts a new streamlined process designed to reduce red tape and harness technology to deliver homes more rapidly, ministers said. Government sources insisted there would be no dilution in building standards.

Changes out for consultation under the white paper also include:

  • Requiring local housing plans to be developed and agreed in 30 months, down from the current seven years.
  • Extending the current exemption of small sites from having to make “section 106” payments – the means by which developers are forced to provide affordable housing.
  • Ensuring that all new homes are carbon-neutral by 2050.

At the weekend, Jenrick said the new regime drew inspiration from “design codes and pattern books” used in the construction of Bath, Belgravia and Bournville.

But the prospect of a modern-day application and use of such codes to give developers “permission in principle” in zones categorised as being for growth was greeted with alarm in some quarters.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) described the proposals as “shameful” and said they would do “almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes”. “While they might help to ‘get Britain building’ – paired with the extension of permitted development rights last week – there’s every chance they could also lead to the development of the next generation of slum housing,” said RIBA president Alan Jones.

Proposals to extend the current exemption of small sites from having to make section 106 payments were slated as a way of helping smaller developers bounce back from the economic impact of the pandemic.

But Shelter said social housing “could face extinction” if the requirement for developers to build their fair share was removed. “Section 106 agreements between developers and councils are tragically one of the only ways we get social homes built these days, due to a lack of direct government investment,” said its chief executive, Polly Neate.

“So, it makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative.”

The proposals contain scant detail on any alternative way to boost the number of affordable homes, promising only that they will not decrease.Advertisement

The white paper proposes a consultation on developers making in-kind payments of affordable homes toward the levy or allowing local authorities to buy a proportion of affordable housing at a discounted rate.

Hugh Ellis, director of policy at TCPA, criticised the reforms overall, saying: “This kind of disruptive reform doesn’t suit anybody, neither landowners nor developers. They’re turning the system on its head at a time when it’s working very well for the volume house builders – 90% of planning applications are approved and there are about a million unbuilt permissions.”

He added: “It’s about local democracy. When local people are walking down the street and come across a new development they didn’t know about, the answer will now be: ‘You should have been involved in the consultation eight years ago when the code was agreed.’

“It’s diluting the democratic process. At the moment, people get two chances to be involved: once when the plan is made, and once when a planning application is submitted. Now they’ll only have a chance when the code is being prepared.”

Zack Simons, a planning barrister at Landmark chambers, said there was a lot to welcome in a move towards digitising the planning system but added that “literally nothing” trailed in Jenrick’s public statements could not already be achieved under the current planning system.

“Promises of “radical reform” can grab headlines. But remember that of more than 400,000 planning applications which are determined every year, over 80% are granted permission and under 0.5% are appealed to the Planning Inspectorate.”

Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, called for a guarantee of affordable housing. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The GuardianAdvertisement

A government source said it was misleading to suggest planning rules were not an obstacle to building. “The [90%] approval statistic masks the numbers of people who are put off applying altogether because of how bureaucratic and difficult this is,” the source said.

However, little has been announced on what measures, if any, will be taken against developers who do not use the permission they have been granted.

The white paper takes aim at the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, which has acted as the basis for planning since it was passed by the Labour government of Clement Attlee.

A “complex” planning system has acted as a barrier to building the homes people need, said Jenrick. “We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before,” he said. “Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process. As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth.”

The Conservatives will hope the overhaul will be favoured not only by investors and developers, but also by the younger voters currently outside its reach.

The Tory manifesto commits the government to 300,000 new homes built every year and, before coronavirus hit, senior Tories saw housing as the key mission of the government as a way of targeting a primary concern of many under-40s and city-dwelling voters shut out of the housing market – those most likely to vote Labour.

“We are seeing a huge generation divide on housing,” one Tory source said. “The under-40s may have half as much chance of owning a home. That is being directly addressed by the first homes programme but the broader point is this planning system has held back homes being built on land that is ready to be built on.

“And we know the main concerns which local people may have are about good design, environmentally friendly, buildings that fit into the architectural landscape, ones people are proud to own. We are not cutting any building standards.”

Wokingham Leader Threatens to Protest Naked at Westminister if Housing Numbers Not Reduced

Perhaps if as many leaders felt as passsionately about building to meet our needs

Wokingham Paper

WOKINGHAM council leader John Halsall has invited fellows councillors to protest naked in Westminster in a bid to get housing numbers in the borough reduced. 

And he was joined in the threat by independent councillor Jim Frewin, whose Shinfield ward has born much of the brunt of the new homes. 

Cllr Halsall said: “I was yesterday at the LGA pleading my case. I see each of our MPs once a week to plead my case.

“Currently it seems impossible to establish a dialogue with (the ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government).

“So, I may have to do something more vivid to gain the MHCLGs attention – maybe parading naked with a banner in Whitehall. I trust the opposition leaders and members will join me.”

The comments were made during a debate on whether the council should redouble their efforts to challenge the housing numbers being inflicted on Wokingham Borough by central government was made by the Liberal Democrats. 

It was held during a virtual meeting of Wokingham Borough Council on Thursday, July 23. 

Cllr Clive Jones introduced the motion, calking on senior government ministers to come to see the borough for themselves. 

“Wokingham over the last 20 years has taken more than its fair share of new houses.

However, more new homes are being forced upon us by the (Conservative) government.

The last few Council Leaders have told us, and I have no reason to disbelieve them, that they have been in many discussions with Ministers about getting the numbers reduced.

“Last year WBC also spent over £50,000 on a survey of ALL households in the Borough to get residents views on what was appropriate future development. This revealed that 95% of residents didn’t want lots more development … something that we already knew. But we hoped the confirmation of this might change the governments mind about numbers.

“It hasn’t, they aren’t listening and new housing numbers are still over 800 homes a year.”

He added: “We want to let residents have the opportunity to change the minds of the Ministers and civil servants. We want them to see for themselves the semi-rural nature of the borough that would be destroyed for ever if we have to accept the high number of new homes that they are forcing onto us.”

Seconding it, Cllr Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey said: “Whilst the North and West of England are crying out for more new homes the government seems to be only focusing on building new home is the South East.  

“Our levels of the Objectively Assessed Need (the OAN) has been kept high it has not taken into account the change in the economy caused by the delayed response to Covid-19 and the oncoming likely detrimental financial impact of the No-deal Brexit many in the ruling party want. “It is time to actually adjust housing numbers to prevent a continuous urban sprawl from London to Reading. This sprawl is putting extra pressure on the already stretched and poorly funded Wokingham Borough services for residents.”

She also warned: “If the current government removes some planning powers away from our council it won’t let us redesign Wokingham’s new homes and could allow developers not the council decide where and what they want to build.”

An amendment was suggested by Cllr Wayne Smith that noted that housing numbers were the results of policies of successive Labour, Lib Dem and Conservatives governments. 

He said that the council had tried to engage previous prime ministers to change the numbers. 

Cllr Halsall seconded and said that he had lived here 50 years and would have supported the original motion had it not just blamed the Conservative government. 

He said that he had written to the Prime Minister last week and threatened to protest naked in Westminster to draw attention to the plans. 

Cllr Jones said he would accept the amendment if it took out the references to the different governments. Cllr Smith suggested changing it to current and previous governments, which Cllr Jones accepted. 

Cllr Gary Cowan (Ind) called the Conservatives butchers for their housing polices and added that the north of the borough had been protected. 

Cllr Jim Frewin (Ind) said that the housing plans had meant that Shinfield parish had been trebled in size. 

“We have to do something – at this moment in time we are very close to destroying three communities. 

“Grazeley would be the biggest housing estate in Europe, we cannot allow that to happen”. 

He pledged to join Cllr Halsall in a naked protest. 

Cllr Andrew Mickleburgh (Lib Dem) said that “The UK government has acknowledged the potential for a green economic recovery from the pandemic – encapsulated in the slogan ‘build back better’. This must include all matters relating to housing. 

“There is a wonderful window of opportunity to respond to this. But the response in terms of housing must not be homogenised. 

“Local circumstances, needs and wishes vary. 

“Ministers and Civil Servants must visit Wokingham Borough and listen to our residents. The invitation to visit our borough must be sent with great urgency, as the potential harms if immediate action is not taken are very real, significant, and irreversible.”

Cllr Stephen Conway (Lib Dem) echoed this, saying: “Even before Brexit and Covid 19, the housing allocation greatly exceeded local needs.

“If we are to see a return to a regional policy that takes jobs to the workers in the north and midlands rather than obliging workers there to move south, then there will be even less need for over-development of our area.”

Cllr Andy Croy (Lab) said that the Heathrow expansion was related to housing expansion and said that Dominic Cummings must be invited – if he’s not coming, nothing would change. 

He also said that the election was fought on the Conservatives ripping up planning laws and that was what they were doing. 

Cllr Jones said he was “really, really, really very pleased” that senior politicians and civil servants were invited to the borough so they could see for themselves. 

He also called on those who had influence with Robert Jenrick to come and meet residents and “have a nice civilised chat”.