Friday 7 August 2020 6:03 am

DEBATE: Are the new planning reforms what’s needed to help alleviate Britain's housing crisis?

James Heywood is head of welfare and opportunity at the Centre for Policy Studies
and Alan Jones
Alan Jones is president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

Are the new planning reforms what’s needed to help alleviate Britain’s housing crisis?

James Heywood, head of welfare and opportunity at the Centre for Policy Studies, says YES.

The new planning White Paper is surprisingly radical and, though the devil is in the detail, the reforms it sets out are hugely encouraging. 

Our current Kafkaesque planning system is stopping us from building the homes we need, and developers can see the value of land skyrocket purely as a result of planning decisions. We have a system of Local Plans but then add a whole layer of complexity by requiring case-by-case permissions for developments.

The White Paper proposes that development should be permitted in principle upfront as part of the Local Plan system, which should significantly speed up the planning process. We would move to a rules-based system with much more clarity for people, developers and local authorities about how development should proceed. 

A streamlined planning system does not mean sacrificing quality. Binding local design codes, based on local preferences and complementing the existing built environment, will help secure buy-in from residents and mean we can increase quality as well as quantity.

Read more: Property industry reacts to planning system overhaul

Alan Jones, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, says NO.

Almost everyone agrees that the planning system in England could do with an update. It is cumbersome, slow, unpredictable, and has been under-resourced for decades.

These reforms have some good elements like digital planning and land reform. But they also seem naive. Westminster will be responsible for determining exactly how many homes need to be built locally. We know from experience that it doesn’t work unless you are prepared to both offer a large carrot and use a big stick to tackle vested interests.

The reforms also do almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes, and expand the permitted development conversions, which the government’s own advisers warned create “slums”.

Housing provision in England is broken. It does a great job of generating large returns for executives, shareholders and some home owners — but fails almost everyone else. We spend more on subsidising housing than almost any country on earth but get far too little from it. Communities and their local governments need to be given greater power to build housing, rather than subsidising what is often shoddy private sector rental accommodation.

Main image credit: Getty

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