Government changes to planning laws face serious criticisms

Thursday’s debate in the Commons on Thursday about the government’s plans to centralise and accelerate the housebuilding process in England shows that they are going to face serious problems in getting their measures passed by their own supporters.

The debate which lasted just under three hours was organised by Conservative MP, Bob Seely, who introduced his non-binding motion on the Government which called “…on the Government to delay any planned implementation of the changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need proposed by the Government’s consultation, Changes to the Current Planning System, published on 6 August 2020, and Proposal 4 of the Government’s consultation, Planning for the Future, on a standard method for establishing housing requirement, until this House has had the opportunity to hold a debate and meaningful vote on their introduction.”

He was strongly supported by former prime minister Theresa May and a number of senior Conservative MPs who expressed opposition to a number of the government’s proposals. Speaking in the debate May said that”… We need to reform the planning system. We need to ensure that that planning system sees the right number of homes being built in the right places. But we will not do that by removing local democracy, cutting the number of affordable homes that are built and building over rural areas. Yet that is exactly what these reforms will lead to. We do need, as I said, to build more homes, but we will not do that by forcing local authorities to grant more planning permissions to developers so that they can build more homes to bring the price down, because developers simply will not do it.

The Government need to think again, and they need to understand the impact that their proposals will have throughout the country.”

The planning changes, set out in August’s white paper, remove councils from many routine planning decisions and instead use an algorithm (a step by step formula to calculate local housing need) to set new housing targets for local areas which was criticised during the debate.

Closing the debate for the government, the Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher said “…We will reflect carefully on what we have heard and the feedback we receive. As we advance, we will endeavour to keep the House well-informed of these important changes, because make no mistake: they are important….”

Public consultation on changes to the current planning system and local housing need calculations (the algorithm), closed last week. The second, on the White Paper Planning for the Future, setting out the government’s  long-term ambitions, closes on 29 October.

Earlier this week ACE wrote to Julian Smith MP expressing concerns about the proposals and asked that he attend the debate. The letter was acknowledged but no detailed reply has yet been received.

Barry White

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