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RIBA president: 'Autumn Statement pledges don't go far enough'

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RIBA president Stephen Hodder has welcomed chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement pledges on planning reform, housing and infrastrucure, but called on the government to take them further

Hodder gave his backing to a package of measures announced today (3 December) to speed up the planning system, including moves to fasttrack small applications and a reduction in the amount of information required at outline stage to establish the principle of development.

But he said ministers needed to recognise that the growing pressure on resources within local planning departments was causing increasing headaches for everyone involved.

‘Moves to make the planning system more effective and timely without compromising the core principles of sustainability are welcome,’ he said.

‘The planning system needs to move away from being a box ticking exercise and become a meaningful process to help communities shape their area. A national spatial strategy should be at the heart of this.’

Autumn Statement 2014 extract: Reforming the planning system

The government has taken significant steps to speed up planning decisions. Building on this progress, the government will take further action to speed up the end-to-end planning process for major and minor applications, and to support SMEs, including:

•Ensuring that the principle of development need only be established once, to give greater certainty and allow locally-supported development to proceed more quickly;

•Taking steps to speed up Section 106 negotiations, including revised guidance,consulting on a faster process for reaching agreement, considering how timescales for agreement could be introduced, and improving transparency on the use of Section 106 funds;

•Keeping the speed of decisions on major applications under review, with the minimum performance threshold increasing to 50% of major decisions on time as performance continues to improve;

•Publishing new data on local authorities’ performance in meeting their statutory duty to process smaller planning applications within eight weeks;

•Working with industry and local authorities to test whether more can be done to support the approval of small sites in the planning system; and

•Publishing proposals for consultation at Budget 2015 on making the Compulsory Purchase regime clearer, faster and fairer, with the aim of bringing forward more brownfield land for development.

On housing, Hodder said the announcement of new large-scale developments at Northstowe in Cambridgeshire and and Bicester in Oxfordshire were a ‘positive step’, but would not be enough end the housing crisis within a generation.

‘The government needs to work with experts and local communities to deliver sustainable proposals,’ he said.

‘Short-term value for money is not the only criteria of success for major new development, any government funding for house building must ensure that the houses and communities that are created are built to the highest standards. 

Short-term value for money is not the only criteria of success

‘We need be building 300,000 new homes a year for the foreseeable future if we want to reverse the housing crisis. A new generation of towns designed upon the principles of the Garden Cities movement are only part of the solution. Freeing up public land for homes, supporting a greater diversity of developers including self and custom build and supporting institutional investment in housing should all be measures any future government should consider to really tackle the housing crisis.’

Following the government’s infrastructure announcements, Hodder said it was vital that the economic impact of such spending was maximized.

‘Development opportunities, especially around new and improved transport links should allow for more housing development to meet local housing demand, better environments for businesses and greater opportunities for local residents,’ he said.

On the government’s flood-defence funding proposals, Hodder said: ‘If we accept that as a nation we are going to continue to build on flood plains then the way we create communities for homes and businesses in these areas need to be re-examined so that they are more resilient. We need to examine how new developments can be designed to prevent flooding and make it more manageable when it happens.’

The full Autumn Statement 2014 document can be read here.

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