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Madelin: Neighbourhood plans a potential disaster

Argent joint chief executive Roger Madelin has hit out at government proposals in the Localism Bill, claiming neighbourhood plans could be disastrous

The proposals to give local people powers to approve certain types of development without planning permission are contained in the Localism Bill which began its second reading the House of Lords this week.

Speaking at a British Property Federation conference last month, developer Madelin said: ‘The past government and this government have compulsive new legislation disorder.

‘The bad news about localism is the uncertainty, it is still stopping us moving forwards and many others.

‘Neighbourhood plans could be a complete disaster.’

Richard McCarthy, director general for neighbourhoods at the Department for Communities and Local Government, also spoke at the event.

Responding to Madelin’s criticism he said: ‘The government is only a year old and has moved faster on planning than any other government in history.

‘The government is absolutely clear, they want you to build more and develop more and they want it to be easier for you to do that.

‘The government is seeking to create the conditions for economic growth and planning is a critical part of that story.’

Meanwhile architects remain divided over whether localism will work in practice.

Sean Griffiths of FAT said he approved of the concept but thought an ‘understanding’ of localism would take time to achieve. He said: ‘It works well in Switzerland where local communities can vote on developments and it seems to neither stop development happening, nor necessarily affect the quality of the development.

‘The danger is the UK is the knee jerk reaction against all forms of development in quite a number of local communities whose prejudices don’t allow the potential benefits of development to emerge.’

James Pickard of Cartwright Pickard Architects however argued the government had already produced ‘several misguided policies’ which could ‘reduce the potential for much needed growth’.

He said: ‘If not managed very carefully localism in the planning process could become a charter for NIMBY’s. Most people will say they want more housing and more development, just not in my neighbourhood.’

Marcus Adams of John Thompson & Partners made a distinction between localism as a concept – which he backs – and the current bill before parliament, for which he has doubts.

He said: ‘The previous Government’s planning policy established a top down structure for planning and determining things such as regional housing targets. Whether you agree or not, at least it provided a framework in which to make decisions.  Planning decisions were judged against this.  The removal of Regional Spatial Strategies has created a vacuum.’  

He added: ‘I believe [the Localism Bill] will slow down housing planning permissions and therefore delivery.  It could result in increased abortive costs for the developer. Key issues of quality and sustainability appear not to be priorities.’

Glenn Howells of Glen Howells Architects said that in his view planning committees and neighbourhoods groups without guidance from experts lacked the skills to arrive at the best design solutions.

He warned: ‘The risks of getting it wrong are huge, not only in terms of disputes and litigation but also in missing the chance to make the most of our towns and cities through a long term integrated vision.’

The Prince’s Foundation chief executive Hank Dittmar said: ‘Moving from a top down, expert driven system to one that is responsive locally will initially be threatening to both the industry and to local residents. We hope our work in community and neighbourhood planning will help in this transition.

‘Surely it has to be a good thing to engage communities, and help them to understand that development can improve the quality of life in existing places. Unfortunately, the experience of the past forty years has taught people that development makes place worse, and it is up to all of us to demonstrate the opposite.’

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