Azara Blog: Tory government has crazy ideas for the planning system

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Date published: 2010/12/07

The BBC says:

Local people are to be given more say over developments in their areas, ministers have pledged.

The changes - designed to cut red tape - mean some planning responsibilities will pass from councils to official local groups.
Under the plans, people would also be given the power to approve or reject proposals for new housing developments, schools and other public buildings in their areas.

Incentives will be given to communities which agree to new homes being built.

Groups of householders will be allowed to apply to be recognised as "neighbourhoods", covering a group of streets or larger areas.

There would be a presumption that local authorities will approve the status.

Neighbourhoods could then prepare "neighbourhood plans" which would be put to referendums.

If approved, their plans would then have to be accepted by the council.

The groups would also be allowed to draw up categories of development which could be carried out without planning permission - such as extensions or loft conversions.

Is it unfortunate the the Tory government is using the distraction of a financial crisis to bombard the country with ill-thought-out legislation in other areas, presumably because they think they can get away with it, because nobody has time to fight them on all fronts.

The idea that "people" should "be given the power to approve or reject proposals for new housing developments, schools and other public buildings in their areas" is particularly bad. Well, of course it depends what they mean by the "people". But in any case, the obvious outcome is that rich (Tory, suburban/rural) areas will disallow all new housing (except for the odd squire who can twist arms) and that all new housing will instead be forced into poor (Labour, urban) areas, where (surprise) most people do not want to live. So it will perpetuate the UK housing shortage, and force up house prices even further in desirable areas, which of course is great news for the rich propertied class whose interests the Tory party represents.

Funnily enough, it seems that this empowerment of the "people" will only apply to housing. It will not apply to developments (such as the high-speed train line) that the government happens to deem to be of national interest. Well, it is already pretty clear from this that the current government bizarrely does not deem housing to be of national interest.

As for this new concept of planning power for "neighbourhoods", there is no reason to believe that anyone anywhere is asking for this. And it is unlikely that anyone anywhere will be happy for their neighbours to be given carte blanche to carry out extensions. It is already bad enough that the grounds for opposing such extensions are so limited (basically "loss of privacy").

It seems that the real reason behind this crackpot suggestion is that the Tories want to stop the rocketing cost of the planning system. Well, fragmenting it further will almost certainly increase costs in the end. And imagine a "neighbourhood" which still insists (as it will) on vetting planning applications. If someone is turned down and appeals and wins, who is going to pay the costs, the "neighbourhood" or the local authority or what? The real solution to the problem of the treacle in the planning system is to sack bureaucrats who are incompetent or who purposefully go-slow at work.

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