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Henderson: 'The planning reforms are an assault on decent place-making'

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Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, claims recent reforms are undermining and devaluing the planning system

The facts on the housing crisis are as stark as the human misery it engenders; the number of young couples, families and individuals unable to get a home, let alone take a first step on the housing ladder, tells its own story of shattered dreams and broken relationships.

For those on low pay, where either affordable or social housing is a tenure of necessity, the choice is often non-existent. We must act on a crucial guiding principle: good-quality housing, for people of all incomes and circumstances, is a pillar of a civilised society.

As a nation, we are simply not providing for essential low-paid workers – whose employment underpins an economy on which we all depend – or for people on average incomes trying to get onto the housing ladder.

To do so, we have to change the terms of what has become a negative debate, full of contradictions. Development is so often seen as a threat. Headlines in some newspapers, driven more by emotion than by hard evidence, scream of both green belts and countryside at risk. But emphatically they need not be – provided we have a planning system that is fit for purpose.

However the planning system as we knew it is being continually undermined and devalued though significant reforms and deregulation. 

Planning is a democratic tool in the otherwise messy business of shaping the future, but it is being systematically dismantled. In England there is no longer a national or regional way of working out solutions to our problems such as housing need and regeneration.

Meanwhile, relaxing permitted development has led to tens of thousands of new homes being created without having to get planning permission - for example through the conversion of commercial buildings into homes - and this means that little or no thought is given to the most basic issues, such as where children can play or whether there are enough doctors’ surgeries in the area.

‘The planning system is being continually undermined and devalued though significant reforms and deregulation. ’

We are producing fewer and fewer affordable and social homes and the Government’s building standards regime means there is no national minimum space or accessibility standard for new homes. Room sizes are now the smallest in Europe, and in some cases are so small that you cannot even fit the most basic furniture into them. Each one of these changes on its own may not have much impact. But taken together they amount to an assault on decent place-making and risk creating a legacy of poorly serviced, badly designed places that don’t provide for those in greatest housing need.

We can do so much better than this, and while it is painful to hear, the planning reform project has been left undone. The TCPA has no interest in defending planning or planners for their own sake. We are interested in very best possible outcomes for society as whole. That means rebuilding a fit for purpose planning system with people at its heart and a strong focus on the quality as well as quantity of our new homes.

Kate Henderson is chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association



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