Devon MPs & Residents
United Kingdom

An Assault on democracy.

This planning paper says it will promote community involvement with future planning regarding development. There are many of us who are not happy with the development in the previous years and certainly we as the public would like more input. However having read all 84 pages of this white paper we are certain that these proposals don’t offer that.

At present planning decisions are made by our local councils who are elected by local people and accountable to us. There are many opportunities to make our voices heard and although we agree that more community consultation would be a good thing these changes don’t offer that.

They plan to carve up our local areas into zones that are for “growth”, the developer gets automatic outline permission, “renewal” with a general presumption in favour of development and “protected areas” eg green belt, aonbs, conservation areas with more stringent development controls. All land will have to be allocated to these areas and although the community will have input as to which areas of land are put into which zone, thereafter there will be minimal input as to the detail of the developments. Once the land is designated as “growth” development is automatically permitted. (For “renewal” land some developments will also be automatically permitted.) These plans will automatically allocate large areas of our communities and countryside to automatic development for years of duration without input from local people thereafter about the detail of the development. For development to benefit local communities the benefits conferred are all about the detail. The affordable housing, social housing, infrastructure and impact on our local areas are in the detail of the development plan. Carving up our local areas into chunks won't confer those benefits. It’s an illusion of community input. “We will be building developments across your local communities.” You won’t get to choose how much, exactly where, what they will consist of or what benefits you will get but you can choose to carve up your local communities and countryside as to where best we can dump these developments”. That is not local democracy, community input or taking back control as our local communities would see it.

Even under the local controls we have had so far many of us have seen developments springing up all around our local areas, destroying woodlands and areas of local countryside, affordable housing provisions and related infrastructure not provided.

A plan to carve up all our local geography into areas that provides automatic planning for large part of these with minimal input once the community have inputted into this process does not give any evidence as to how the present situation would be improved. And it certainly does not improve the ability of local people to hold the process to account.

The proposed Local Plan, with all land allocated as described, is then approved by a central Planning Inspector, appointed by the Secretary of State.

This is as compared to the present system where every development is assessed by local planning committees and each can have community input via attendance at an open planning meeting or via online methods. These local decisions makers are democratically accountable through council elections and the detail of the development is available regarding decisions re planning permission so we know exactly where the development is, potential concerns and potential benefits and can input and influence decision making at this important stage.

These new changes are touted as improving community input. That is frankly incorrect and unsubstantiated by the detail provided in the white paper. The rhetoric doesn’t match the detail you give.

2. The suggested changes won’t solve our problem of housing and in fact will make the housing problems worse due their less effective measures to ensure affordable housing provisions and the fact they are based on an assumption that housing problems are caused by planning problems which is simplistic and ill informed.

At present 50% of affordable housing is provided by present planning obligations by developers, through section 106 statutory rules such that developers must provide this housing as part of the planning permission. The proposed planning changes abolish section 106 obligations and replace them with a payment the developer must pay once the new housing is occupied (a new Community Infrastructure Levy). There are serious concerns that such changes will not provide the same level of affordable housing. The proposed links through this Levy and the provision of this housing are complex and depend on the private housing component being sold and the fee paid and then affordable housing being obtained from this. It is not a fixed proportion of housing and the balance of benefit is in favour of the developer who is guaranteed their return in profits before the housing is supplied.

The assertion that these changes are to solve our housing crisis, which is what they are proposed to tackle, ignores all the other factors that feed into this problem far beyond planning. Lord Kerslake, the crossbench peer and chair of housing association Peabody said the existing planning system was not stopping more homes being built.

In fact 1 million homes that have planning permission have not been built and 90% of planning applications are approved.

The problems leading to shortages of affordable housing both for rent and to buy are multifactorial. They include the use of housing as an investment including “buy to let”, “buy to leave”, “airbnb”, etc which all can reduce availability of housing stock to buy, and drive up rental prices and purchase prices. In fact the issue of housing as investment in “buy-to-leave” and airbnb short term lets have caused problems round the world in housing availability. In London alone there are an estimated 100,000 empty or underused properties through this, often by foreign investors. In England there are 226,000 long term empty homes. Bearing in mind the government target for new homes is 300,000 per year this is a significant number. The problem is that as property becomes the new gold, this will cause social problems, as property is actually more than a financial asset, it is a home. Sitting on gold doesn’t cause a problem to society, it has no other use than financial. Sitting on housing is a big problem. Changing Planning Law won’t help that problem. Changing Housing Law can. In countries the government has referred to in Europe where housing is more affordable, that is down to other factors including tenancy protections. Addressing housing law and tenancy protections, limiting foreign investment in residential property, restricting other investment types like airbnb and addressing the large scale problem of long term empty housing will do much more to address our housing problems than reforming housing law. These proposed changes effectively endorse developers to build all over our precious communities and countryside in the hope that some development will fall to the people that need more affordable properties to buy or rent. This without the safeguards to ensure affordable properties are provided.

3. They favour developers and their profits, not local communities and their housing needs.

You only need to read multiple sources and their assessment of the new plans to see this is the case. The only positive reports are from property and development companies who are thrilled about the abolition of section 106 requirements to provide allotment of affordable housing and related infrastructure as part of permission for the development to a new system of a fee as part of the development value once built, and only to be paid once the properties have been sold and the developer has their windfall. Win win for the developer. Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and local government, who has proposed this white paper and these reforms, doesn’t inspire confidence regarding whose priorities he represents, after his “attempt to deprive impoverished Tower Hamlets of £45m of such payments” for affordable housing from Tory donor Richard Desmond’s the developer’s £1bn profits from his development.

4. They will destroy our beautiful countryside and have poor impacts on the environment at the very time the climate and ecological crisis is at a tipping point.

These plans mandate that all land in England is carved up into zones where planning is automatic or presumed in favour of with only “protected” zones being subject to more stringent development control. Even if we were in favour of massive chunks of our country being concreted over and developed in the hope of some affordable housing being handed over, in view of our present climate and ecological emergency, where we have lost 60% of vertebrate species since the 1970’s, this is not what our country needs. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. More indiscriminate development is not what we want or need. Nature is beautiful, nature is precious and we want it protected. Let our communities decide which developments we want and where, depending on benefits we can assess and consider, on a case by case basis with local democracy and scrutiny as we have now.

The UK Green Building Council says that around 10% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions are directly associated with construction. This includes the CO2 generated through the entire building process. This doesn’t include the carbon footprint of building the associated new infrastructure that may be needed. Emissions from building and infrastructure construction are expected to form the single largest category of consumption-based emissions for C40 cities between 2017 and 2050, producing 21% of consumption emissions. So although this government hopes its “build, build, build” program will be the way to work through the economic crisis produced by the Pandemic, as the construction industry produces 6% of GDP, and 6.6% of jobs, however they are not looking at the background looming climate crisis.

There will be opportunities for boosting the economy and employment through construction moving forwards, but these will be in growth and expansion of green technology in energy, in transport and in retrofitting existing buildings. The push for new development, demolish and rebuild developments miss the carbon cost and biodiversity cost and show a lack of understanding at where we are in a pivotal moment in time. There may be some need for both, where very carbon efficient buildings are replacing old buildings that can’t be converted into newer carbon efficient homes eg office change of use developments but the carbon cost of demolition and rebuild must always be factored in. There is no room for sloppiness in weighing up all these costs. Carbon costs are as real as any other costs, and the climate crisis is and will prove to cost us as dearly as the Pandemic, in terms of economy and in terms of health and deaths.

5. They are too prescriptive and short sighted at a time where we are in an enormous period of change due to the Pandemic and Climate crisis and major changes to the way people work, travel, live and enjoy leisure time. They are not fit for purpose for our present circumstances.

We are in times of enormous change. In the middle of two existential crises. The world wide Pandemic and the Climate and Ecological Crisis. Over periods of months we are seeing widespread changes to the way people work, travel and live. Working from home has increased rapidly and there are strong signs from businesses that these changes won’t be reversed. There is evidence that this is having a big impact on where people are and will be choosing to live. People are spending more time at home, outdoor space is becoming more important, both gardens and parks. We are using more active travel. Life is changing rapidly and it needs to. Both for the Pandemic and for the Climate and Ecological crisis. And these planning reforms are based around a system where we lay down long term plans about how we zone land use across our entire country, fixing these projections through planning permissions, for years ahead. This is totally inappropriate at such a time when we have no idea how the way we live urban, rural, where and how will look in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years and 10 years. The present planning system has the ability to adapt to these changes we are and will see in the way we live. By dealing with each development as they are proposed. If there is a mass exodus from cities to suburbs, developers will follow this and their proposals will follow these changes. Ditto if changes are from cities to rural, an increased preference for outdoor spaces like gardens, parks, balconies. As what people want and choose changes proposed developments can too. Zoning the land throughout our country now, committing these decisions for years down the line, seems entirely at odds with our rapidly changing circumstances and the use of market forces to be beneficial to drive the change people may want.

For all these reasons the proposals are not fit for purpose and should be dismissed.

Our present Planning system should be retained and the white paper has flagged up some areas that may be relevant for improvement which are listed below.

There are some aspects that would be beneficial.
Better digitalisation of planning proposals and community input would be welcome and the assertion that this would not be possible by Local Authorities is unfounded. Central government can develop and fund digital technology and roll it out to councils. There is no more reason that the control for planning has to be central to implement digital changes than under local authority.
Making the Community infrastructure mandatory not discretionary (it is enforced by 50% of LAs at present would be welcomed. More local funding is always welcome. However the section 106 obligations should be retained for the additional significant benefits they make to affordable housing and necessary infrastructure for the development.
Viability assessments should be abolished to reduce the uncertainty around section 106 obligations. If a developer agrees the commitments they are a term of the contract and should be upheld, as in any other contract. If there is no opportunity for viability assessments and variation of s106 obligations, developers will negotiate realistically regarding their original s106 obligations, and this will remove a major uncertainty the white paper is trying to address. If the developer is unable to go ahead, the LA should be able to buy out the remaining part of the development at cost, and contract out the rest of the development, to obtain the benefits of the housing supplied. The government should provide funding to support this and this would go a long way towards addressing our affordable housing requirements. If the developer doesn’t think the project is viable then it shouldn’t be approved in any case, as it won’t provide the benefits the community is hoping to gain from it in the long term.
Neighbourhood plans, which have been proven to be popular, give good community involvement and provide what the community wants and needs should receive funding and support to be developed further, with the digital solutions that the government is suggesting deployed to aid their development. They should be the favoured option to guide development in our communities and are already up and running.
Climate mitigation by building of new homes should be addressed by strictly enforceable standards as described in the Future Homes Standard consultation you carried out, as you say, a first step towards net zero homes. We welcome your proposals that from 2025, you “expect new homes to produce 75-80% lower CO2 emissions compared to current levels. These homes will be ‘zero carbon ready’, with the ability to become fully zero carbon homes over time as the electricity grid decarbonises, without the need for further costly retrofitting work.” This is how a sustainability component should be addressed, by enforcing these standards strictly in all new homes, and there is no evidence that such aims would be better placed within Planning overhauls, rather than building standards regulations. If these standards were strictly enforced for new homes, it would remove the aspect of administration required regarding sustainability assessments, as part of the planning process, reducing administration times and costs which was one of the concerns you raise in the white paper.
Where not enough affordable housing is being produced by new private development applications by developers, the government should fund local authorities to build these developments themselves. This is what the publicly owned assets that are planned to be sold off (p68-69 white paper) should be used to fund. This is certain to produce less costly methods of producing affordable housing and social rented accommodation, than the large bills the government pays at present in housing benefits to private landlords.

We the undersigned are opposed to the 'Planning for the Future' - White Paper, August 2020 put forward by the UK Government. It is a threat to local democracy and we call on the Government to stop the changes to the Planning laws for the following reasons:

1. It takes control away from local authorities which have direct democratic input and take the power to Westminster and the Minister of State and his appointed Planning Inspector.

2. It won’t provide a solution to our housing crisis and won’t provide more affordable housing or social housing, it will just provide more poor quality “slum housing” and concrete over our green spaces.

3. It favours developers and their profits, not local communities and their housing needs.

4. It will destroy our beautiful countryside and have poor impacts on the environment at the very time the climate and ecological crisis is at a tipping point.

5. It is too prescriptive and short sighted at a time where we are in an enormous period of change due to the Pandemic and Climate crisis and major changes to the way people work, travel, live and enjoy leisure time. It is not fit for purpose for our present circumstances.

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The Opposition to 'Planning for the Future' - White Paper, August 2020 petition to Devon MPs & Residents was written by Ian Crawford and is in the category Government at GoPetition.