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Housing white paper: Measures ‘not sufficient’ to mitigate years of under-investment in planning

Words: Laura Edgar
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The RTPI has expressed concern that measures in the housing white paper that will see money from planning fees increases reinvested in local planning authorities may not be enough to mitigate years of under-investment.

In its response to the consultation proposals in the housing white paper, published in February 2017, the institute welcomed the government’s plans to allow local authorities to raise fees for planning applications by 20 per cent to be reinvested in planning departments.

If an up-to-date local plan were in place, this would rise to 40 per cent.

The RTPI has called a number of times for the planning system and local planning departments to be properly resourced.

In November 2016, it launched campaign 16 Ways in 16 Days, outlining its recommendations for tackling the housing crisis. This included allowing local authorities to charge the planning fees they need to properly resource their planning service. “Developers will pay for an efficient and responsive service. Planning departments have suffered greater cuts than other local authority functions – it has to stop and be reversed.”

Now, in its consultation response, the RTPI states that is “concerned that these measures may not be sufficient to mitigate for years of under-investment and resources need to be made available to enable the local planning authorities to cope with the demands” government policies will place on them.

The institute also welcomed the government’s intention to join up development with infrastructure, urging the government to work across departments to achieve this.

However, reliance is placed on policy to achieve this, rather than direction action.

While “there is growing recognition of the role of builders in delivery (or failing to deliver) the lack of cooperation from infrastructure providers (even when money is available) can be equally detrimental”.

“Apart from the matter of assisting connections to the network, this issue has been bypassed by the white paper and yet the solutions lie in ministers’ control over infrastructure regulators.”

The RTPI’s response to the housing white paper also notes:

  •    The paper “makes no mention” of a mechanism to capture rising private land values to benefit communities.
  •    There appears to be limited connection between central government housing strategy and industrial strategy.
  •    The institute would be happy to see proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that would see local planning authorities expected to have clear policies for addressing the housing requirements of groups with particular needs, such as older and disabled people. It is important this is not confined to older and disabled people and that it “incorporates inclusive planning principles”.
  •    On green belts, the response states that the RTPI position on green belts is that “’green belt boundaries may well need to change, but only through careful reviews over wider areas than single local authorities”. Green belts came into being as strategic tools, and this is how they should continue to be managed.
  •    The institutes agrees that it would be good for neighbourhood plans to have housing requirements, but not that they should replace wider strategic allocations over the local planning authority area or strategic housing market area. It questions whether policy is the most appropriate place for this (as opposed to guidance), particularly if the neighbourhood forum disagrees with the housing figure.
  •    The RTPI thinks introducing a fee for appeals is an acceptable measure, but the messaging around this could be very much improved, and a lot rides on the size of the fees. There is a need to increase resources to the Planning Inspectorate. The institute said its members are very concerned at the poor performance on handling appeals, which may well be due to insufficient staff resources. Fees should be introduced, but on exactly the same terms as central government is imposing on local authorities – namely that the grant to PINS is not reduced in consequence.

The RTPI’s response to the housing white paper consultation can be found here (pdf).

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