Prior to calling the General Election, the Government announced that it was intending to publish a Green Paper (then evidently a white paper). Now we have a Conservative Government returned, can we expect a White Paper and if so, what should it say?
At a recent British Property Federation event ahead of the election, I joined a group of panellists, who were invited to outline the most important challenges or issues we must address in the built and natural environment and although there was similarity in our individual responses, it is the political response to the issues and challenges that determines the policy. The Conservatives campaigned on a platform of infrastructure investment, increasing housing provision and the showing of the party in the Midlands and the North could well add a spatial dimension to the policy direction. We also await a decision on HS2 and the OxCam corridor expressway in the conservative heartlands.
But central to the delivery of any of the policy responses, lies the planning system. The system I now navigate is markedly different to that which I jumped into 30 years ago. The core principles are the same, but the range of issues and matters to be assessed and consulted, the means and scope of assessment has increased and continues to do so. You can’t increase the breadth of assessment without increasing complexity and hence time. To improve the planning system, to make it more efficient and responsive, requires a range of solutions. The effect of Brexit upon the application of EU law into the planning system will no doubt play out over time.
Resources and skills are of course key. PPAs are interesting and are relied upon by many LPAs as a means of funding the planning department. The setting of costs and the performance standards offered vary and scrutiny and accountability are key.
Local Plans are also a fundamental. We need to rethink how we drive efficiency in plan making. Most in my view are too long, overly prescriptive and LPAs seek to reinvent the wheel every time.
The Conservatives are wedded to localism. But the absence of strategic planning places, I would suggest, an impossible burden on local councils: both members and officers. The identification of unmet need is a difficult challenge, especially when balanced with the Green Belt.
Political attitude is also key. We already have a vast away of planning policy and guidance, yet some Councils are more efficient than others than producing plans – why is that? Let’s have grown up conversation.
The Conservatives also remain wedded to protecting the Green Belt, but can it be protected in absolute terms considering the Conservative’s desire to increase housebuilding and the spatial manifestation of the application of the Standard Methodology? The Conservatives want to build 1m new homes within 5 years, yet the standard methodology points to 45% of that need being London and the South East. How is the Government going to address the sharp spatial focus of need and demand?
Finally, I believe the way we fund infrastructure – CIL – needs reviewing. CIL’s day-to-day workings are unwieldy and we need to find more accountable and transparent means and approaches to demonstrate to communities how the infrastructure needs arising from development are going to be met.
Interesting time are ahead!
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General Election, Green Belt, CIL, Local Plan, Planning