Close planning loopholes

All the political parties are saying we need to build more houses.  Large new estates have mushroomed at Melksham, Westbury, Corsham, Chippenham and north of Salisbury, and still there are homeless people.

In the rush to build more houses, we are being left with huge new estates that seem to consist of endless single houses and garages taking up a lot of land. The regulations for building to the highest eco standards have been relaxed so the opportunity for all houses not only to be energy efficient but energy generating is lost.  With more commuters, more congestion and fewer doctors, no wonder there are now more voices saying is it really more houses that need to be built or is it the right kind of houses in the right places?

Currently the greatest need is for social rented houses and flats.  There is welcome news of government funding so Councils can build. The next need is for first time buyers to be able to find houses they can afford to buy or self build.  .

The problem with giving a strong green light to build houses is that it not only encourages an “anything goes” approach, it also encourages the land promoters.  These are developers who make arrangements with land owners so they take a share of the profits from the huge increase in the value of the land if they succeed in obtaining planning permission.   They go for land that is not in the development plan and argue that the Local Planning Authority does not have a sufficient or deliverable five year land supply.  Sometimes this is caused by developers failing to build existing permissions. This puts an extra burden on the hard pressed Local Authorities to deal with the applications.  They do not have the money to fight appeals where they will be up against leading barristers so find it hard to refuse.  Recent research has shown that the land promoters are successful when the Plans are not up to date and even when they are because of the loopholes in the National Planning Policy Guidance, known as the NPPF.

When precious land is lost forever, Local Plans that have taken years to produce are undermined, huge profits are made for the few and the many cannot afford a place to live. People’s confidence vanishes.

There must surely be a better way forward.  Take the five year land supply  loopholes out of the NPPF.  How can it be sustainable to take land that provides a lung between towns or is in area of outstanding natural beauty, or is a much prized area for local recreation, or harms heritage when once taken it is no longer there for future generations.   With enough land on the brownfield registers to build a million houses how is it that the land promoters get away with winning their appeals?

Changes are needed.     Ministers have repeatedly upheld the Planning System.  It should not be undermined by vagueness about the five year land supply.  Planning permissions that have been granted should be built within a certain time, not just begun.   Power needs to be restored to Local Planning Authorities to determine whether or not they have an up-to-date 5 year land supply.   Also there is a need to cap the uplift in the value of land as a result of being granted planning permission so it is not so great that it encourages speculators.

In the debate to launch the NPPF the then Minister, Greg Clark stated

By putting power into the hands of local people so they see the decisions are going to be taken locally and respected locally, part of the purpose of our reforms is to move away from the situation in which decisions taken locally are overturned by the Planning Inspectorate….. I made it very clear that the framework is a localist document which it is to respect”.

Let’s hope it soon will be once again.

Two people searching for something against a cloudy blue sky