However the new Parliamentary balance of power plays out, planning will be in the frontline of addressing housing needs. The Conservative manifesto remained focussed on Localism and subsidies for first time buyers/ landowners. Labour had proposed rent control, infrastructure investment, public sector housebuilding and delivery of the Lyons Review recommendations, including the doubling of housebuilding in five short years through a new generation of Garden Cities.
Our manifesto for progress on the ground is simple:
- No new planning legislation. There has been some helpful, and some genuinely radical, planning reform in the vast swath of legislative paperwork spawned by the Coalition (Localism Act 2011, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, Growth & Infrastructure Act 2013, Infrastructure Act 2015, and a set of CIL Amendment Regulations every year since 2010). Please stop legislating, at least for one Parliamentary term. There is now insufficient public sector resource to do much with legislation as it stands, let alone more of it. (see 8, below)
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- No changes to the Town and Country Planning Act.
- No changes to the NPPF. Broadly it works.
- CIL agreements for major sites. CIL breaks down when applied to big projects. It makes sense to put agreements entered into ahead of CIL setting and during the application process on a footing that prevents viability debates and creates certainty about land value and infrastructure delivery.
- A National Policy Statement for Housing which sets defined Broad Housing Market Areas and needs and a tiny change to the Planning Act 2008 to allow (but not require) DCOs for housing above the 5,000 units mark.
- Fiscal incentives for authorities to allocate land to meet needs. None of the manifestos tackle the issue that dogs what is meant to be a plan-led system – there are no local political incentives to plan for growth to meet needs. They are, in fact, usually perfectly aligned in the opposite direction. Failure to plan will be rewarded by re-election. A clearer relationship between land allocation and infrastructure planning and Government grants would clarify local decision making. Funding that is tied to allocations, LDOs and authority-sponsored DCOs makes sense.
- A national template highways agreement and a national template planning agreement. So much time is wasted in unnecessary, cruel and unusual drafting that could be so much better spent on decisions about where, when and how we are going to build (not just approve) an extra 200,000 homes every year for the next Parliamentary term to meet the minimum of needs.
- Resourcing planning. In many local authority legal departments the last person to leave has already switched off the lights and departed for a remotely operated shared services regime. Planning officers are a endangered species. Highways teams have been outsourced en masse. Despite this there is some committed work done in challenging circumstances. The development industry should look harder at how it can support the public sector. Authorities in turn should recognise that delivery will now often require outsourcing to the most capable external advisers at developers’ cost, rather than holding onto what is seen as a revenue stream amidst unprecedented under-capacity.
- Sort out the CPO process. It is too long winded and unfair. The Law Commission did an excellent report on how it could be improved and that should be dusted off. And allow the private sector to initiate the CPO process – after all if it is acceptable for CP powers to be given as part of the DCO process why cannot there be a similar ability to support housing and smaller scale development?
- Transparency and viability. We need to make the viability assessment process less opaque and more open. We also need to make sure that if viability is addressed as part of the local plan process then it should be rare for the policies to be challenged afresh application by application. But where viability is raised as a reason for non-compliance with policy then the figures, in an appropriate form, should be available for the public to review.