We have just 12 weeks to respond to these dangerous planning proposals
PUBLISHED: 08:30 15 August 2020
They say a week is a long time in politics. Well, it’s a lifetime for the planning system.
This time last week, the government announced the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper, a major shake-up to the planning system.
Certainly planning is in need of reform. First up, we should be discouraging developers from sitting on empty sites they already have permission for, waiting until prices increase. Next we should be dismantling the frustrating ‘viability’ system, which allows developers to water down their commitments to providing affordable housing.
We also need to change the way land is valued and sold – this creates problems, by leaving affordable housing to be the last thing calculated in the system, rather than an upfront non-negotiable requirement.
If the government put forward such reforms, we would welcome them. Unfortunately, the proposals, that some have dubbed a “developers’ charter”, further shift the power balance away from communities and towards developers. The white paper has united the RIBA architects association, local government – across the political spectrum – academics, and environmental and housing charities. All are worried at how these plans would remove the voice of the community, undermine affordable housing during a housing crisis, and lead to ill-thought-out and poor quality development.
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What are some of the most worrying proposals, and what would they mean here in Camden? In Camden we seek to alleviate the housing crisis through our policy to levy affordable housing contributions on developments of any size. The government wants to stop us doing this by allowing such contributions to kick in only if the development is 50 homes or above. This is both crude and unfair.
The government also wants to stifle the voice of communities as they seek to have their say on development that would affect them. People would be allowed to comment on new council-wide plans drawn up over 30 months, but then denied the chance to express concerns when actual developments come forward.
Even more worryingly, many sites in what the government is branding “growth zones” would have “permission in principle” – and would go ahead without any meaningful oversight from the planning process at all. This is combined with a series of new ‘permission development rights’, allowing buildings to add a number of floors without permission – imagine how your street could start to look – or shops to change from retail or restaurants to offices without permission, further killing off the high street.
All this is promising to be the single biggest revocation of planning powers in our history.
We now have just 12 weeks to respond to these dangerous proposals, and Camden Council will be raising our communities’ concerns. If these changes do get introduced, we will work with residents to use all the tools we have to try to curb the worst excesses of the developers’ charter. We are clear: planning is needed to ensure development works for the local people, producing locally affordable homes, local jobs and improvements to infrastructure and the environment. Let’s hope the government listens to the chorus of voices warning them of the destruction their proposals would bring.
• Cllr Danny Beales (Lab, Cantelowes) is cabinet member for investing in communities and an inclusive economy - a brief which includes planning, regeneration and economic development.
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