This is a blog to give you a bit of respite from Sir Howard Davies and airports, and the rapid and wholly unhelpful hardening of the battle-lines… Although, you might say, it is related…
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will acknowledge that I have never been one for bashing planners. I admire almost all of the very many planners I know. And in nearly 30 years of working in this sector, it is my pretty settled view that it is the lazy recourse of the defensive house-builder (or whoever) when making excuses for not driving delivery up, rather than admitting the simple truth: that they eke out supply in order to keep prices high.
OK, we live in a well-populated county and we can’t manufacture any more land. We have a green belt policy, and a well-developed environment lobby (whoops, nearly back to airports again). There are constraints. But it is all too easy to blame the planning system, and planners, for the challenges facing the housing market in particular. All too easy and it would appear, wholly wrong. Figures released this week from CLG show that the numbers of homes granted planning permission are now higher than before the 2008 economic crash. In the year to March, councils across England granted permission for 261,000 new homes – the highest annual total for eight years. These figures are significant: nationally we are granting permission for housing numbers in excess of any government targets.
Now… if there is a turnaround (and let’s fervently hope there is, and let’s fervently hope for measures to accelerate same) then it is being delivered within a localist context. Housing minister Brandon Lewis is in bullish mode and is quoted as saying: “The previous system of top-down targets built nothing but resentment. Our reforms, a key part of our long-term economic plan, have changed that. It means that permissions have been granted on 261,000 homes in the year to March – higher than the pre-recession peak in 2007 – while housing starts are more than double what they were six years ago. And with the housing bill set to include measures to bring forward brownfield sites, we’re determined that we will keep the country building while protecting the green belt.”
Last year I saw with my own two eyes Greg Clark and Lord Heseltine place housebuilding at the heart of the long-term economic plans for each of the Local Enterprise Partnerships in the Local Growth Fund process. The policy direction is to put power directly into the hands of local people over the future development of their area, by putting local plans at the heart of the planning system. Some 64% of councils have adopted a local plan, compared to 17% in May 2010. And it would seem that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), that most rational of planning documents ever drafted, is bedding in well. According to CLG, local support for housebuilding has doubled in the past four years, from 28% in 2010 to 56% now, while opposition to local housebuilding has more than halved during the same period.
Well, we will see what transpires in the forthcoming housing bill, but I am hoping that those who care about such matters are at least mildly encouraged. Certainly the planners – who are in my direct experience, a hard-working and public-spirited body of hard-pressed women and men – and their representative bodies, the RTPI and the TCPA, should take heart. Perhaps we should start a campaign to start bashing the planner-bashers.