Tell the Government they’re going wrong on housing

2nd May 2017

The new housing planning policy in England will ignore ordinary people and could mean more blots on the landscape. But we can make the government think again.

The government has been dismantling planning controls since it came to power in 2010, meaning people are gradually having less of a say in what gets built where they live.

The new Housing White Paper acknowledges that we aren’t building the homes we need in the right place.

But the proposals it includes on planning only ratchet up this problem. It will be another nail in the coffin of planning rules, making it easier for developers to build exactly what they want, where they want.

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Weaker planning rules will not solve housing crisis

Planning shapes the places where we live – decides whether we should have homes that are energy efficient, whether we should have fracking or renewable energy.

And weakening planning rules will not solve our housing crisis. It could mean more building in the green belt, more speculative developments on green fields, less affordable housing, poor quality homes.

We will also continue to lose out on those things that make up the kind of place we all want to live in – clean air, green space nearby, schools, doctors and shops within safe walking distance.

A row of terraced houses in England

A row of terraced houses in England

UK Housing White Paper explained

The government revealed its long-awaited Housing White Paper in early 2017, claiming this would help it “fix the broken housing market”.

A white paper usually comes before new legislation is proposed, or planning rules are changed. It’s consulted on, and people are asked for their view on the proposals.

The focus of the paper is on increasing housing supply by:

  • allocating more and more land for development,
  • getting rid of local plans

This will make it easier, the thinking goes, for developers to build more homes.

But what it means is that there is less leverage for councils to pull in order to get the green space or the quality or the affordability that we, as communities, want.

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Housing in a picturesque village in England

Housing in a picturesque village in England

What’s the planning “lottery”?

By continuing to dismantle planning controls, residents could fall foul of a planning “lottery”.

This means planning could vary wildly, depending on where you live. You could be living:

  • where a new test on “housing delivery” means your local plan is thrown out the window;
  • in an American-style planning zone, meaning that development is already agreed “in principle” and you’re only asked about exact numbers and type – not whether it should go ahead at all;
  • where there is no requirement for planning permission whatsoever, if a council applies to have “freedom from planning rules”;
  • near an office to residential conversion that requires no planning permission;
  • in a place with no local plan, but only a regional “strategic” plan shared with lots of other local authorities.

Exceptions apply, but then you would need to be living somewhere like a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Building more houses won’t drive down house prices

While the government has recognised the problem of a “broken” housing market, it does not have the right answers.

The sad fact is that even as the government has systematically chipped away at our planning rules, arguing that this will encourage the rate of construction of more homes, no more houses are getting built than before, when there were more controls.

What incentives do the big developers have? If they build more homes, then prices could fall because of increased supply, which risks damaging developers’ profits.

England needs more affordable homes for people to live in

England needs more affordable homes for people to live in

Solution to the UK’s housing crisis

Designing your housing policy to suit big business is a disaster. The planning system was originally invented in the 19th century to deal with uncontrolled industrialisation development and all the public health and environmental problems that came with it.

Deregulation has not only gone hand in hand with the erosion of building quality, but the quality of new communities too.

Often new developments are planned with no links to public transport, poor access to health services and schools, and no consideration that people might want nearby green spaces, leisure and shops.

Friends of the Earth’s solution to England’s broken housing market involves:

  1. Not introducing a delivery test that applies penalties to local planning authorities when it is the volume housebuilders who are responsible.
  2. Redefining sustainable development and viability in planning rules so that we can enforce the need to put people and environment first, rather than simply profit at all costs.
  3. Local government getting the finance from Westminster to build the homes that people need – affordable and social housing – where they are needed.
  4. Every local authority to be required by law to have a local plan, with a right to be heard for people, and local democratic sign off – this will ensure that plans are for people and places.

Our friends at the Woodland Trust are also extremely concerned about these proposals and their affect on England’s ancient woodland – you can help them by backing their campaign.

You can help us campaign for that by telling the government to protect our local democracy and strong planning rules; and to ditch the ideas to give developers effectively even more of a say over what happens where.

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Post written by Naomi Luhde-Thompson on 7th April 2017