Why the Government is getting it all wrong on planning reform

Planning and development are important issues both for our local area and the national economy. From my postbag and local surgeries, I am extremely conscious of the shortage of housing in our area and the need for more decent affordable homes for families who want to get on. It is one of the issues that local people contact me about most often.

In Westminster I have advocated a boost to housing investment to build affordable homes and to get our builders and the construction industry back to work.

But I’m also concerned about some of the trends I have noticed locally following national changes to planning policy and have discussed the issue at length with senior council officers as well as elected Councillors and local people.

Last summer I conducted a local survey of 35,000 people across the area and asked about people’s views on the issue of planning and house building. While some people said they oppose all house building, most agree we need more affordable homes. But most also want to see existing communities respected, valuable Green Belt land protected and proper infrastructure provided so that our local communities are not harmed.

I have now written twice to the Secretary of State to raise the concerns I’m hearing locally.

My letters to the Secretary of State make clear that changes the Government has made to planning policy means there is no longer the presumption that Brownfield sites should be developed first. Previously we had a strong Brownfield-first policy which prompted the development of sites that had previously had buildings on them. But this has been ditched through recent changes in the Government’s national planning policy. And the local Council’s hands are tied because developers can simply appeal decisions that reduce their access to greener sites.

In addition, the lack of restraint on developers to build the kind of houses we need in our community means they are only proposing to build houses they want to sell – big houses that will make a lot of profit – instead of affordable family homes. Local council officers tell me that many local developers already have existing brownfield sites with planning permission already granted but have not yet developed these sites and yet are applying for more. That can’t be right. This problem has only been made worse by ongoing problems in the housing market and weak recovery in the regional economy.

Of course, any development of new homes brings challenges with additional pressures on local services, such as schools. Local officers and Councillors have told me their concerns that the levy developers have to pay, which is intended for infrastructure to support communities, is not set high enough. And with big pressure already on local council budgets, they are unable to make up the shortfall. We already have pressures on school places and local infrastructure.

I want to ensure the Government is aware of the impact national policy changes are having locally and will continue to press Government on these issues.

You can read my first letter to Eric Pickles here.

His response to me is here

You can read my second letter to Eric Pickles here.

I’ve yet to receive a response to my letter from October.

Read previous posts relating to this issue:

http://www.edballs.co.uk/blog/?p=4539

http://www.edballs.co.uk/blog/?p=4440

http://www.edballs.co.uk/blog/?p=4629

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Posted February 5th, 2014 by Ed's team