Watch out, planners: You're in the government's crosshairs

Crispin Kelly

Crispin Kelly

Architect-turned-developer Crispin Kelly detects the stamping foot of a crotchety minister demanding, ‘More houses, or else’

You might be forgiven for thinking that anyone with an inclination to respond to the government’s current technical consultation on the Housing & Planning Bill needs to get a life, but the consultation process is in earnest and wearing metal toe caps.

Local planning authorities, many already seriously under-resourced and gagging on the permitted development rules shoved unceremoniously down their throats, are not going to be happy. The bill represents a very cross minister stamping his feet, fed up with paper pushers addicted to development control rather than getting more houses built.

The permitted development rules showed how limiting the powers of planners to a few areas (contamination, flood risk, traffic) cut through policy like the need to retain B1. The consultation document seems to be heading in the same direction, with the assembly of land registers and the idea of “permission in principle”. For brownfield land, there is a determination that 90% of suitable land will have permission for housing by 2020.

Only 45% of councils have an adopted local plan made within the last five years. The bill promises a “designation” regime: “We will take action when there is a sustained under-delivery of housing.” The old game of targets as a measure of how things are going is replaced by new apparatus like the proposed section 106 dispute resolution process: if the handle is being cranked, sausages really are going to come out the other end.

Recently I was incensed when I saw at the end of a “reasons for refusal” letter for one of our projects a prim paragraph that stated that the authority had done all it could to encourage, assist and help in processing the application. Really not true. This Housing Bill may not deliver encouragement and assistance from all planners, but could make planners less relevant. The government is flexing its muscles to make housing “permitted development”.

This is about housing numbers. Permission in principle is going to be established first to get supply going. Showing a wonderfully honest estimation of the contribution design makes, the bill proposes that “technical matters” can be considered later “(such as what the buildings will look like)”. We may be consigned to brackets, but late and unresponsive planners risk being deleted altogether.

Postscript:

Crispin Kelly is founder of Baylight and a former president of the AA.

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