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Further Plans to Boost Housebuilding, Jobs and the Economy Could Result in Unsustainable Development, Says POS

Date: 6/9/2012

The government's latest announcement to boost the economy could have far reaching, unforeseen consequences says the Planning Officers Society.

Society Spokesperson, John Silvester, said "It is good to see the new financial initiatives but slashing the local consideration of planning proposals is not compatible with the government's stated aim of achieving locally determined sustainable development."

The planning proposals include:

  • Removing restrictions on house builders to help unlock 75 000 homes currently stalled due to sites being commercially unviable. Developers who can prove that council's costly affordable housing requirements make the project unviable will see them removed.
  • Thousands of big commercial and residential applications to be directed to a major infrastructure fast track and, where councils are poor performers, can opt to have their decision taken by the Planning Inspectorate.
  • Calling time on poor performing town hall planning departments, putting the worst into 'special measures' if they have failed to improve the speed and quality of their work and allowing developers to bypass councils. More applications also will go into a fast track appeal process.
  • For a time limited period,slashing planning red tape, including sweeping away the rules and bureaucracy that prevent families and businesses from making improvements to their properties, helping tens of thousands of home owners and companies.

Silvester commented "Removing the need for affordable housing requirements flies in the face of adopted development plans and misses the point entirely as authorities already have the ability to negotiate workable solutions taking into account the viability of the project. "   The Society pointed out that many authorities already relax their requirements to enable development to proceed (e.g. Ashford and Bradford).

The Society indicated that for the big commercial and residential development to be determined by the Inspectorate this is taking the decision making away from local members and flies in the face of Localism. "This is not what the government said would be the new norm" added Silvester.

The intention to get poor performing councils to improve is welcomed by the Society; however, Silvester suggested that "taking away massive planning fee income by transferring major development to the Inspectorate will not enable the poor performers  to inject more resources into planning."

Allowing householders to build larger extensions could result in serious damage to neighbours'amenities says the Society - see the separate media release).

"Overall, these proposals could result in a string of unsustainable developments, which surely cannot be the government's intentions?"  questioned Silvester.

The Society stated that Planning Officers on the front line advising Councillors in local planning authorities are well aware of the urgent need for housing and jobs to meet local needs. Society President, Malcolm Sharp, said "planning's core business is to plan for future needs - it is what we do. It is creative and positive. It is only the minority of development that is poor and therefore refused. That judgement is made locally where it should be, by local councillors."

The vast majority of local planning authorities are working hard to improve local plan coverage and make timely decisions. The Society would not wish to defend those that aren't and works to support Planning Officers in achieving best practice.

The Society firmly believes that it is the state of the economy that is holding back development and not planning; and is, therefore, supportive of financial measures to help bring forward much needed houses and jobs as long as they are in the right places with the right infrastructure. It is the job of Planners to advise how much is needed and where it should go. It is the job of local councillors to adopt appropriate plans.

Sharp commented "We should remember that we will all have to live with the consequences of poor decisions for a long time, indeed so will our children and our children's children."

Sharp continued "The government wants to unblock stalled development and that is something which the Society would wish to support. There are already hundreds of thousands of planning permissions and allocations in local plans waiting to start. This is what should be prioritised and given adequate time to get new plans in place for future years. Making schemes viable in these times is a challenge but the answer is not just to review section 106 Agreements, although Planning Authorities have been doing that anyway."

The Society made it clear that section 106 Agreements are only valid if they provide benefits which make a permission acceptable which otherwise would be refused. Sharp added "They fund things like school and health centre provision without which the developers would struggle to sell houses anyway."

Section 106 Agreements are increasingly the only way to provide affordable housing.  Sharp advised "Communities need  a good mix of housing if they are to be sustainable, not all key workers who keep our society going by doing vital jobs in health, education, other local services or work in private industries can afford to buy or rent on the open market. The provision of affordable housing is already reduced and to reduce it now is storing up problems for the future."

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