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Conservatives vow to ditch housing targets and shift 'power to the people'

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The government’s approach to house building should be scrapped and replaced with a system that promotes projects led at street-level, according to Conservative Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps

‘A conservative government would give people unprecedented new power over the future shape of their own communities’, said Shapps who recently slated the government’s housing drive as ‘top-down’ and ‘Stalinist in nature’.

‘Design no matter how good, won’t cut it on its own,’ said the shadow housing minster to an audience of house builders and architects at the RIBA headquarters in Portland Place earlier today (01.09.09).

‘Some of the problems in Britain today are too deep and complex even for architects to fix single-handedly,’ said Shapps, adding: ‘…you can’t ‘do’ great design to other people. Instead we must find ways to empower local residents to exercise more direct and effective control over the decision-making process.’

The shadow housing minster also announced that a Conservative government would scrap government housing targets and regional development agencies, and instead ‘encourage power to be exercised at the very lowest levels of local government’.

The Conservative Party’s opposition to the government housing agenda was made clear in a leaked letter by shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman that urged elected party members to delay house building prior to the next general election, reported by the Observer.

Shapps added that an immediate stop on house building prior to the election ‘won’t make much difference’ because there was not much taking place at the moment.

The Conservatives admit that money for house building will be ‘unbelievably tight’ in the future, said Shapps who declared he would not make pledges or set quotas if he were elected to government.

When questioned about the apparent likeness of his proposed community-led approach to the Enquiry by Design model currently being pushed by the controversial Princes Foundation for the Built Environment the would-be Conservative housing minister was reluctant to comment.

For some in the audience Shapps’ speech raised more questions than it answered

‘I’m not fully convinced how it will work in practice,’ said Stephen Davy, of Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects, who has designed afforadable housing. ‘Regional strategies look at the longer term picture, if you just speak to the local community - will they be able to develop a long term strategy? I’m not sure they will.’

‘When you do public consultations it’s usually the local residents that say no change is best,’ said Davy.

A community led approach to planning for the built environment could end up being a ‘Nimby’s Charter’, according to Peter Stewart, RIBA Head of Planning.

There is a risk that self-elected community representatives could supplant the authority of the fairly-elected representatives (i.e. local councillors), according to Stewart who warns of the ‘Lynda Snell [the village busybody from the Archers]’ factor.

‘It could also make it harder to get planning permission,’ said Stewart.


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