We have to do more to make our planning system work
Monday, 14 October 2013 - Peter Andrew
Developers, local authorities and policy makers certainly have their differences of opinion, but there’s one thing we seem to agree on when it comes to the state of the nation’s planning system – there’s plenty of work to be done.
This week I was part of a discussion panel at the Housing Market Intelligence Conference along with HBF planning director Andrew Whitaker, planning and environment barrister Ian Dove QC, CPRE campaign and policy director Neil Sinden and local authority leader Jim Harker. We found ourselves drawing similar conclusions on a surprising number of issues.
The hottest topic on the discussion agenda was, of course, the National Planning Policy Framework. I’ve always believed there would be a five-year transition period for the NPPF to bed in but does it look like it’s working for the purpose it was intended? I’m not convinced.
Developers are already receiving more planning approvals since the NPPF came into force, with about 80% of our planning consents now coming at the committee stage and an increasing number through appeal. What’s actually happening is that because many local authorities haven’t adopted their local plans or identified their five-year land supplies, the Planning Inspectorate and Secretary of State are pushing sustainable developments through regardless of overall strategy – which means we’re effectively determining councils’ land allocations for them.
That’s no way to run a planning system. Developers are in the business of building homes but it’s not up to us to map out where they need to be located. This needs to be done by local authorities under the scrutiny of a robust democratic system – but this simply isn’t happening in many areas.
We also need local authorities to work together for the greater good, rather than regarding their neighbouring councils as rivals. There’s no point having a Duty to Co-operate if all councils are doing is telling us they’ve talked about satisfying housing need jointly without actually taking action, and it’s the Government’s responsibility to make sure they’re genuinely co-operating.
The CPRE were also keen to push their argument for ‘brownfield first’ during the debate and I agree that we should be focusing on previously developed land before greenfield sites – but we can only use what we have available. The public sector still owns 40% of all larger development sites and the Government needs to speed up the process of releasing this land if ‘brownfield first’ is to remain a viable option.
But the planning system isn’t just about government and policy. At Taylor Wimpey we’ve already made it our number-one priority to engage with local communities from the earliest possible stage and developers in general need to work harder to put public engagement at the top of their agendas. We need better dialogue between developers, local authorities and stakeholders if we want to deliver the right developments in the right places.
Wednesday’s conference convinced me that there’s a genuine will to make this thing work. But there’s also plenty still to be done if we’re to stand a chance of achieving that.