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09/08/2016

News analysis: What should be the new government’s planning priorities?

Words: Laura Edgar
Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell

New Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed Sajid Javid as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Gavin Barwell as minister for housing and planning, replacing Greg Clark and Brandon Lewis respectively. In the days after their appointments, The Planner spoke to members of the planning profession to ask what Javid and Barwell’s priorities should be.

Secondary legislation

 

Speaking about the Housing and Planning Act, Adele Maher, strategic planning manager at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, said the absence of detail on starter homes is a “practical nightmare” and has introduced “uncertainty in negotiations on development sites and applications ever since”.

She said it is “critical” that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issues a statement that “indicates where they are going with this as soon as possible”.

Matt Shillito, associate director at Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design, and Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation, agreed.

Shillito told The Planner it is important to know how and when reforms aimed at speeding up the planning system would be brought forward – and when secondary legislation to the Housing and Planning Act would emerge on measures including permission in principle.

“Without a secondary legislation and a time frame for it, there is a danger projects will be put on hold,” said Shillito.

As well as referencing the act, Whitaker said that changes proposed in a consultation regarding the National Planning Policy Framework also need implementing.

Local authority resources

 

“Can planning departments work better? Absolutely,” said Maher. However, she said they need “investment and support from the DCLG, not regular bashing and slashing of budgets”.

Maher suggested inviting and rewarding competition in planning rather than enforcing it. Competition in planning should not necessarily mean outsourcing, but could include taking a more business-like approach to the provision of service.

Emma Lancaster, associate at Quod and 2016 RTPI Young Planner of the Year, said the new communities secretary should recognise the role that planning can take in addressing the “top- tier challenges that we face”, for example, housing need, economic growth, infrastructure delivery and energy.

Lancaster added that to do this local planning departments should be properly resourced so that “they are able to progress with plan-making and secure high-quality outcomes through planning decisions”.

Trudi Elliott, chief executive at the RTPI, said local authorities should be allowed 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 departments and it has to stop,” she said.

Housing

 

Housing was a key priority highlighted by everyone The Planner spoke to.

Elliott made a number of key suggestions to “ensure a plan for homes for all – now”, including getting the public sector building and keeping housing associations building.

She said local authority-commissioned home building, cleverly used, “can create markets and supported private sector provision”.

“It’s not either or,” she added.

Elliott also called for the government to not call in local plans that properly plan for the homes the community needs and have been scrutinised and found sound by the Planning Inspectorate.

Instead, she urged it to support local authorities and their partners to deliver those homes.

Additionally, planning inspectors should be allowed to find local plans partially sound. “Don’t let problems with one small policy area hold up a local plan having the weight it needs in steering where homes go.”

Other priorities include:

 

  • Providing certainty on funding in infrastructure for housing developments and economic development as a whole. Particularly on European funding, following the vote by the UK to leave the European Union – Mark Shillito
  • Taking a longer-term view on infrastructure delivery (at least 30 years) by developing a national infrastructure plan that benefits from cross party political support and can therefore outlive political cycles – Emma Lancaster
  • Ensuring that robust local plans continue to be drawn up and that local authorities maintain their five-year housing supply through robust trajectory planning – Andrew Whitaker
  • Offering ready permitted sites to support small and medium-sized builders – “we need to get them building again” – Trudi Elliott

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