Reforms to the planning system – Letter from Westminster, September 2020

1st September 2020

Planning how as a society we decide what buildings get built where, to serve which need, is one of the perennial conundrums of local and national politics. There is no right answer which will satisfy everyone. So devising a system of decision-making which achieves the myriad objectives of those who need to live and work in buildings, during a time of population growth when not enough homes have been built, calls for radical action.

The government has had some success in reforming the planning system since 2010, with the National Planning Policy Framework contributing to more local involvement in deciding how our communities develop, and cutting away red tape. Together, the changes have meant that last year we delivered over 241,000 homes, more new homes than at any point in the last 30 years, all while continuing to protect our environment, heritage and Green Belt.

But frustratingly, the ambition to own your own home remains a distant dream for many young people. There is a significant generational divide, as demand for housing has grown but supply has failed to keep up. Aside from the relative price stability in the mid-1990s, and the financial crash of 2008, house prices have grown consistently over the years.

We cannot ignore the effect our planning system has on the supply of housing. Local authorities take on average seven years to generate a comprehensive housing plan for an area. Developers take on average five years to get permission to build. As we have seen in South Shropshire this can often be followed by very slow delivery of homes with the roads, schools, hospitals and other community infrastructure support their occupants require.

Last month the government launched ‘Planning for the Future’, setting out proposals to facilitate a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players, where all pay a fair share of the costs of infrastructure and the affordable housing communities require and where planning permissions are more swiftly turned into homes.

This Green Paper is subject to full public consultation. I would encourage local residents to have their say before the deadline of 29th October. Full details of the consultation can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future.

In addition to these long-term changes, the government introduced new rules to boost housing density in the short-term, allowing residential blocks of three storeys or more, as well as terrace buildings in certain commercial uses and mixed-use buildings, to extend upward to create new self-contained homes. A new right on demolition and rebuilding will support the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings that no longer effectively serve their original purpose, support housing delivery and boost housing density.

These changes should help deliver the growing need for housing while also reducing pressure to  build on greenfield sites. Exemptions exist for National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and conservation areas.

The reforms come at a crucial time, since a new Future Homes Standard for all new homes is being developed to ensure that housing quality and energy efficiency continues to improve across the country. I shall be keenly holding Government to account (as chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee) to raise energy efficiency standards of all new buildings, including those constructed under Permitted Development Rights.

Locally, Shropshire Council is undertaking its own review of development in the county, with a draft Local Plan which sets out where and how much development should take place in Shropshire to 2038. This too is under public consultation until the end of this month, so I encourage all those concerned to look at the proposals and have your say at https://shropshire.gov.uk/get-involved/reg-18-pre-submission-draft-local-plan-consultation/.

My hope is that these changes, taken together, will result in a good supply of housing in Shropshire, that takes into account local views. But this is dependent on as many people as possible having your say through these public consultations, to help frame our communities for the future.

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