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22/01/2016

'Planning in principle' rights could undermine small communities

'Planning in principle' rights outlined in the Housing and Planning Bill are a blunt instrument when it comes to dealing with the sensitivites around greenfield sites, argues Karl Parkinson-Witte

Karl Parkinson-WitteThere has long been a clear strategic focus from recent administrations to focus house building on brownfield sites where possible. Yet hidden in the Housing and Planning Bill was the proposed ‘planning in principle’ rights applicable to greenfield sites as well as brownfield. There is insufficient brownfield land to satisfy the UK’s housing need and so greenfield sites in sustainable locations have to be considered.

A recent report, New estimates of housing demand and need in England, 2011 To 2031, by Dr Alan Holmans of Cambridge University, shows that housing requirements in England are on average 240,000-245,000 a year – up to 10,000 more homes a year than the figure often quoted by politicians.

House building levels are rising, but they remain at their slowest level since the 1920s – 100,000 a year less than the requirement.

“In more constrained and sensitive locations such measures may cause more harm than benefit”

I think many would agree with the need to free up greenfield sites identified in local development plans more quickly, allied with a need to streamline an overstretched planning system. What I’d query is whether planning in principle rights – particularly extended to greenfield locations – is the correct way to do it.  The rules will mean that although councils will be able to assess as-yet unspecified technical details on developments for sites identified for new homes in local plans, they won’t have an outright power of veto.

The Daily Telegraph says early forecasts suggest that this bill could unlock 7,000 sites. In towns and cities, planning in principle rights may well help to speed the delivery of new homes, but in more constrained and sensitive locations such measures may cause more harm than benefit. It may also increase the number of lesser quality sites coming forward with the benefit of planning permission.

The devil is in the detail and at the moment there is none within the bill about the scale of scheme that might be caught by the potential planning in principle rights or any detail as to the extent of  the assessment reserved for subsequent approval.

Greenfield land has a part to play in delivering housing. But those with a stake in the industry have a part to play in making sure it meets the needs of local communities as part of a neighbourhood planning process. Consultation and communication is vital, but the concern is that planning in principle may undermine that totally. For that reason it should apply only to brownfield sites.

Karl Parkinson-Witte is joint managing director of strategic land promotion agency Richborough Estates

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