Saturday, 29 April 2017

Councils fear changes reduce community control over development

Relaxed planning rules an ‘attack on localism’

Planners have attacked the government’s relaxation of planning rules, claiming the move reduces the influence of councils and local communities.

Last Thursday, the government announced the removal of planning obligations, known as section 106 agreements, that require affordable homes to be built on development sites if the agreements are holding up the construction of market housing.

The government said the move will unlock 75,000 homes on stalled sites.

But in cases which are disputed, judgement of viability will fall to the Planning Inspectorate - leading to fears councils will be sidelined from decisions about housing development in their areas.

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said: ‘The implications of the government’s drive towards bypassing local authorities are serious: local communities may well be marginalised.’

Malcolm Sharp, managing director at Huntingdonshire Council, said councils should be making the decisions on where housing is needed, and not the government.

‘It is only the minority of development that is poor and therefore refused,’ he said. ‘That judgement is made locally where it should be, by local councillors.’

Labour said the move was an attack on localism, but communities secretary Eric Pickles branded the plans ‘robust localism’ and said they were ‘common sense measures’.

House builders were broadly in favour of the plans. Ashley Lane, group partnerships director at house builder Persimmon, said: ‘We’ve got a few schemes ourselves where viability is a major issue.’

However, one major house builder that wished to remain anonymous said it was concerned the Planning Inspectorate did not have the resources to take on the expected workload.

Property consultancy CB Richard Ellis flagged up similar concerns. Keith Hearn, senior planning director at CBRE, said: ‘I do wonder if the Inspectorate will have sufficient resources to undertake these viability assessments and take a view on what is an acceptable number of affordable homes in a timely way.’

The relaxation of planning obligations was part of a package to boost house building and the wider economy, which also included a £10 billion guarantee for developers and £300 million of capital funding for 15,000 affordable homes.

Britain’s biggest house builder, Barratt, this week reported a 159 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £110.7 million, stating it had benefited from government initiatives such as first buy.

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