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Chancellor's planning reforms 'risk creating slums of the future'

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George Osborne has been accused of presiding over the creation of the ‘slums of the future’ after announcing a bonfire of planning rules in his new ‘productivity plan’ for the country

The Town and Country Planning Association said the Chancellor’s plans, which include automatic planning permissions for brownfield plots, risked marginalising local people in the development process and could torpdeo ‘genuine place-making’.

Kate Henderson, TCPA’s chief executive said: ‘Taken together, the measures announced by the Chancellor today, further deregulate planning and risk marginalising communities.

‘The decision to give automatic planning permission to sites on brownfield land seriously undermines the ability for genuine place-making, and risks creating the slums of the future. 

‘After all, without planning how can we bring forward high quality new communities which are accessible, affordable and sustainable?’

Meanwhile architects and housing experts have warned that changes to the planning changes announced by the government could lead to poorly designed homes bypass local authorities, and lead to unsustainable development.

The new announcement of a relaxation of current rules by the government aims to speed up the amount of homes built in England and Wales. Brownfield sites which have been put on the government register as suitable for housing will have automatic permission in principle subject to a limited number of currently unknown technical details.

At a glance: Osborne’s new planning rules for England and Wales

Design for Homes CEO David Birkbeck was sceptical about the impact the reforms would have. Speaking to the AJ he said: ‘Is this a day which we will look back on in ten years and say that it changed the agenda? I think it’s likely that this is not.

‘Brownfield sites bypassing the planning system may not have any difference as developers may have other reasons not to develop a site, such as people not wanting to live there. Practically all of Barratt’s homes are built on brownfield land already. The idea that streamlining the planning process will lead to additional homes is not necessarily the right idea.’

Head of planning for HTA Riette Oosthuizen said: ‘Huge amounts of powers are being transferred to the Mayors’ of Manchester and London. If you look at London then the borough council’s will now only have complete control over schemes between 11 and 50 units in size. Schemes under ten will go through automatically, and those over 50 will go to the Mayor.

‘The government will meet a lot of resistance to these changes. They are trying to take local plan-making out of Local Authorities’ control.’

Mike Roberts, managing director of HAB Housing defended planning departments, stating that they needed to be properly funded and new developments need to ensure they do not put a strain on public services: ‘Many planning officers are talented, dedicated people but they lack the time and resource to be efficient and effective.

‘We must find a way of prioritising and favouring quality over the mundane and bog standard; creating great places where people want to live and communities thrive. This will reduce the cost to the taxpayer over time whereas poorly designed, unsustainable sprawl will only increase the burden on the NHS, police, education and social services.’

London Assembly planning spokesperson Nicky Gavron attacked the plans, calling them a rehash of old policies. Gavron said: ‘Far from a new house building revolution this is little more than a rehash of old policies that tinker at the edge of what we need. In London we have had housing zones opening up brownfield land for over a year, they are nothing new.

‘While relaxing planning permissions may help some home-owners extend their properties it will do little to ease the vast burden of demand in the capital.

‘There are already over 260,000 homes with planning permission in London, what we need isn’t more planning, it’s those homes being actually being built. If the Chancellor was serious about tackling London’s housing crisis he would reverse his deep cuts to affordable house building grants, lift the borrowing cap that is preventing councils from building and stop developers sitting on land for years without building.’

Architect’s Broadway Malyan said the new measures were a ‘positive step’ but warned that Broadway Malyan, warns that the announcement could encourage unsustainable development on unsuitable brownfield sites.

The practice recommended that the government adopt a city-region strategy to development - rethinking the relationship between our cities and their surrounding sub-regions to direct housebuilding where it is needed most, like many other advanced economies.

However despite concerns of architects, the plans were welcomed by other sectors of the industry. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) called the measures a ‘forward step’, while the Home Builder’s Federation said that the measures will provide a decent boost to the economy.

RICS head of policy Jeremy Blackman said: ‘Enforcing local plans and measures to speed up delivery on brownfield sites are things we have long called for, but these need to be part of an overall coordinated strategy.

‘Stronger compulsory purchasing powers and a new ‘zonal system’ for faster delivery of housing on brownfield land is a positive step towards addressing the gap between demand and supply. Some sites have been locked up for too long and these measures, coupled with a brownfield register and fund, will get them moving.’


Peter Murray, New London Architecture

‘I’ve always thought that planning is a rather good idea - the problem is that from the early 80s on successive Governments have reduced the ability of local authorities to deliver and manage the delivery of planned environments, so the only solution politicians can see is to tear up the rules. In such a scenario is essential that the importance of good design and quality placemaking is acknowledged by those taking responsibility for new development in this more relaxed regime. We shall certainly see the monitoring of major proposals as key role of NLA in the future.’

Nicholas Jewell, Associate Director at Ben Adams Architects:

‘Osborne’s intended reform to planning law is one that provokes mixed feelings.

‘On the one hand, anything that addresses the shortage of housing in this country and the increasing lack of affordability that surrounds the housing stock that we do have feels welcome. The question is whether these proposed reforms will deliver the right results. For example, questions around how the already vexed issue of affordable housing provision will be addressed in this putative housing boom are not clear.

‘If planning can often feel restrictive it also ensures that development takes place in a controlled and considered way that respects the city and its inhabitants, as well as acting as a check against uncontrolled speculation. With the removal of these constraints the role of the architect as a champion of the built environment will be more important than ever. Issues surrounding height and townscape are complex and emotive because they affect the lives of people far beyond the curtilage of a given building site.

‘Issues of amenity, daylight, overshadowing, proximity and views (amongst others) have a critical bearing on how domestic life is rendered enjoyable or intolerable and planning law, for better or for worse, is the guardian of these values. The housing shortage may well be alleviated by realising new models of density in our cities - either through adaptive re-use of extant building stock or new typologies on brownfield sites - but it will only succeed if strong human and urban values are championed by those at the heart of this process.’

George Turner, campaigner against Braeburn’s Shell Centre redevelopment

Totally absurd. The government needs to understand that planning is about good development - this is a recipe for bad development. 

Stewart Baseley executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation

‘The industry welcomes the changes announced by government today and looks forward to working with them to develop the detail.

‘The lack of available developable land and delays in- and cost of- the planning system are the biggest barrier to the country building the homes it needs. If the industry is to increase supply closer to the level needed we need more land to come through the system more quickly.

‘Speeding up the rate at which planning applications on previously developed land are processed; and closing the gap between central government ambition and local authority performance is key.

‘In recent years house building rates have been lower than for many decades creating an acute shortage of decent housing. Increasing build rates will provide people with decent housing and boost the economy.’

Chris Selway, Senior Director at BNP Paribas Real Estate

‘Compulsory purchase powers are a vital tool to assist developers and unlock opportunities for private investment. They are too little utilised by local authorities and we would urge government to make the regime faster and fairer when it is reformed in the autumn.

‘However, the compensation review must also be fair to claimants, as larger schemes and complex infrastructure projects create years of general blight in the ‘shadow’ period before the land is acquired, with no current remedy for affected owners.

‘Statutory loss payments are also inadequate and the right to serve blight notices is capped at a ridiculous figure of £34,800 a year. A fairer system would be to remove these, and add 10% to the gross compensation to recognise claimants are forced to sell for the greater good.’

James Rayner, Main Board Director for Broadway Malyan
‘While the Chancellor’s announcement is welcome, there remains significant debate and concern about the delivery of sufficient housing. As well as delivering the quantity of housing we need, it is vital we consider the quality and locations of housing that will deliver sustainable and liveable communities in the long-term.

‘The Government’s announcement today on productivity is a significant and positive step to building essential housing. While, there are many brownfield sites across the UK in excellent locations, close to existing or proposed transport hubs, there are also many brownfield sites that are in inaccessible locations with poor infrastructure - unsuitable for rapid increases in population.

‘To free up suitable land for housebuilding, we must consider sustainable locations - both brown and green - as part of the solution to the housing crisis.






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