Is this the best we can do to Plan for the Future?

Is this the best we can do to Plan for the Future?

The cover of the Wite Paper complete with dystopian housing development.

The cover of the White Paper complete with dystopian housing development.

by Carolyn Kagan

updated 28 October with a link to our consultation response

The UK Government has issued a White Paper intended to reform the planning system in England – Panning for the Future, 20201. This white paper is out for consultation (due October 29th 2020).  Here we identify the main flaws in it: at the end you will find links to make your own consultation response.  Our own full response can be downloaded from this link.

Putting aside the rather bizarre metaphors used in the Prime Minister’s preface, the politicians’ introductory rhetoric contains things we can agree with. We can agree to the pursuit of a society with powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose; communities that are connected to a planning process that is supposed to serve them, with residents engaged over what happens in their areas; the enhancement of local democracy and accountability; and to a system wherein smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players. Whilst the White Paper dodged clarifying the social purpose of planning, the TCPA summed this up as follows:

The new purpose of planning should be “to positively promote the long-term sustainable development of the nation and the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals. Within this, ‘sustainable development’ should mean: a) managing the use, development and protection of land, the built environment and natural resources in a way which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs; and b) promoting social justice and reducing inequality.2   

This, we can agree to.

We can agree to the building of environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks at close hand, where tree lined streets are the norm and where neighbours are not strangers.

However, we do not think the proposals will achieve any of these things – primarily because the wrong answers are being proposed to the wrong questions3. Whilst we agree the planning system needs reform, we cannot agree with the direction of reform proposed, which will reduce democratic accountability, nor will it contribute to climate targets and guarantee energy efficient homes for all, for life.

Of course not enough houses are being built at prices people can afford to buy or rent in the places they want to live: however, this is not due to the planning system. The TCPA report4, a year on from the Raynsford5 review, published in 2019 said:

We have been adding substantially to the stock of unbuilt permissions each year for the last five years. In the year ending June 2019 councils approved around 135,000 more units than were completed by new build and conversion. The Letwin Review6 estimated that there were approximately 107 undelivered sites of above 1,500 units in England with permission for approximately 393,000 homes. The approval of 375,200 units of housing in the year to June 2019 shows that planning is plainly not the ‘problem’ in terms of numbers of consents. The practical delivery of these consents is not within the gift of local authorities. Rather, it relies on what the government has itself has described as a ‘broken’ housing delivery market. Ten years of continuous planning reforms have not achieved the desired ‘step-change’ in the delivery of new homes, while the quality, safety, location and affordability of these units remain a real concern.

The wrong questions being asked in the White paper, which is predicated on the premise that it is the planning system that has led to the housing shortage. Instead, it is land value variations and capture7 that should be addressed, not the planning system if the range of affordable homes are to be built equitably across the country. Furthermore, it is more democratic involvement in the system, not less or restricted, as proposed, that will lead to good and better, places for people to flourish. (Indeed the Letwin Review proposed a stronger role for the public sector, not a weaker one as in the White paper).

The White paper is a shoddy piece of work, failing to provide evidence for the assertions and solutions within, and failing to take notice of the two previous reviews cited above (Raynsford, 2018,19; and Letwin, 2018). These both considered extensive and detailed evidence and made recommendations which, whilst they may not go the whole way to address spatial planning that can embrace the integration of social, economic and environmental place-making that we have promoted8 in the past would at least take us in a direction that encourages more local, democratic involvement in the creation of flourishing and sustainable places. Instead we have what many have called a ‘developers’ charter’9 and a weakening of local democratic involvement that will kill off affordable housing10 – in other words an ideological tract, not a blue print for sustainable, future place-making.

You have until 23.45, Thursday 29th October 2020 to make your response to the White Paper. We suggest that the Friends of the Earth template response is a good place to start, supplemented by the TCPA and CSE response, but do personalise it and submit it as your own response. Use this link to make your response. Our own response is available by clicking HERE.

3 Independent Group, 2020 The wrong answers to the wrong questions.

4 TCPA. (2020). Planning 2020 ’One Year On’—20th century Slums? Raynsford review of Planning in england. TCPA.

5 TCPA. (2018). Planning 2020 – Final Report of the Raynsford Review of Planning in England. TCPA.

6 Independent Review of Build Out. Final Report. Cm 9720. Letwin Review. Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Oct. 2018.

7 UK Government HCLG Select Committee. (2018). Land Value  Capture. HC 766.  Tenth Report of Session 2017-19. Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. House ofCommons,.

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