Implications of the proposed new planning rules

The Government wants to see hundreds of thousands of new homes built every year. It’s a laudable aim. Applying the laws of supply and demand – more houses on the market should in theory keep a downwards pressure on house prices. A big increase in house building should create thousands of high quality jobs and help us reinvigorate the economy. All good if done in the right way.

But, many people argue that the proposals are flawed on several levels. Here’s my take on it:

Will building more houses reduce house prices?

In theory, yes. In practice unlikely. Large building companies are businesses that seek to maximise the return to their shareholders. They already hold large land banks. It’s pure fantasy to believe that they will build enough houses to the extent that house prices fall. It is self evident that building companies have every incentive to slow down their building when house prices are falling. The whole premise of the proposed change to make housing more affordable is flawed.

Removing local scrutiny in the planning process

The government plans to give automatic planning permission to new houses in certain areas provided they meet a set of prescribed design guidelines. In planning the devil is in the detail. Designs are currently inspected by council planning officers and difficult cases are brought to planning committee where democratically elected councillors make the final decisions. I can not see how a set of centralised rules or algorithms can be applied and be considered fair.

Removing the need for developers to pay for community infrastructure

Currently on sites of fewer than ten houses developers are exempted from paying money towards affordable housing or money towards local schools, hospitals and roads. The proposals seek to make these exemptions apply to sites of 40 or even 50 houses. We are already suffering from lack of hospital infrastructure. We need money to build truly affordable housing.

The government minister pushing these changes Robert Jenrick recently courted controversy when he overrode planning conditions that saved a Conservative Party financial donor millions of pounds in money that should have been paid for community infrastructure.

These changes will not work, they remove local accountability and they take money from much needed community infrastructure. In planning and house building money speaks loudly.


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