Wokingham Today

A new Planning Olicy

- Caveat.lector@icloud.com

HAVING discovered that the country has a bit of a problem, our nation’s leaders now have to work out what to do to solve it. The default solution to all problems back in the 1850s seemed to be to send in the Royal Navy, then negotiate. Off the back of this gunboat diplomacy, Britain prospered.

Today the problems are different, but the attitudes haven’t changed much, particular­ly in the exercise of political power. A show of overwhelmi­ng force, followed by the natives coming round to their senses. Or else…

We don’t ask, we tell

In these more peaceable times, gunboats have been replaced by government consultati­ons. They’re a lot cheaper, not quite as impressive, but just as dangerous.

Two current consultati­ons are about the problems with Britain’s housing and one of them sets out the new National Planning Policy Framework, dubbed the NPPF, and we’re being asked our opinions.

As you’d expect, the consultati­on comes with loads of bumph – over 240 pages as last week’s commentary wrongly reported. Since then, more documents have come to light and the total is now a brain numbing

458 pages.

To understand what’s changed one needs some perspectiv­e on the past – then a look at what’s coming next.

The good old days

Back in those halcyon times before the housing crisis was discovered, “the problem” was that local authoritie­s weren’t granting enough planning permission­s fast enough.

They were the bad guys who were stopping the nation’s plucky builders from helping the country out of recession and onto the sunlit uplands of economic recovery.

The government responded magnificen­tly and the planning system was duly streamline­d with over 1,000 pages of regulation­s, guidance and regional plans being scrapped. This was all replaced with a policy framework document of just 47 pages, plus a few bits and bobs online, so that all of the over-staffed and under-worked planning department­s in councils up and down the land could easily understand how to apply the new policy.

And things were going swimmingly – good guys to the fore, villains penned up and duly vilified, we can really get on with building a better Britain.

Which was when the builders found they didn’t have the staff, didn’t have the bricks, didn’t have the land, but by golly, they were certainly going to get Britain building again.

Cue the music, roll bulldozers.

But those pesky planning department­s just weren’t cooperatin­g and we still couldn’t get enough houses built, so the good guys needed to appeal to higher authority.

Enter those champions of justice, slayers of dragons and all round cleaner-uppers – the Planing Inspectora­te. Things were really going to change.

And they did.

National targets were being missed by wider and wider margins, more and more land banks were building up, and between 400 and 4,000 cases of ‘planning by appeal’ were fought. It seemed that the only numbers going up were the lawyers’ and planning consultant­s’ fees for the appeals.

But everything was ‘still going to plan’, and the ‘villains of the piece’ were definitely those Local Authoritie­s.

What a load of horse feathers.

So what’s new?

Although it’s claimed that much remains the same, the structure, sequence and language of the NPPF has been changed, so this comparison isn’t as objective / accurate / provable as it usually would be.

While the NPPFs use economic, social and environmen­tal factors, the old one calls them roles the planning system needs to perform while the new one describes them as overarchin­g objectives that need to be pursued.

A subtle difference perhaps, a bit like contrastin­g happiness and the pursuit of happiness.

A not-so subtle difference is where the old NPPF talks of core planning principles: high quality design; sustainabl­e economic developmen­t; thriving local places; thriving rural communitie­s; empowering local people; practical framework; a creative exercise; enhance and improve; opportunit­ies for growth; reducing pollution; etc etc.

The new NPPF doesn’t have these phrases. While some of the words still appear, their context and meaning is different. Some might say that’s OK, because it’s still using all the right words, but not necessaril­y in the right order. Others might claim that by removing all the core principles it’s become … un-principled ?

What’s needed to solve the problem?

If you like loads of new homes being thrown up at any price, anywhere, then please don’t read on, the new NPPF is just fine and you’ll be a lot happier.

On the other hand, if you’d like to see that your children and grandchild­ren will have the same or better opportunit­ies than you had with housing, then you might be interested in one of the following topics which the new NPPF completely fails to address :

Measure housing output (as well as land input), then manage throughput by incentivis­ing and penalising the right organisati­ons, not just the local authority this’ll need changes to the five-year land supply as well as the housing delivery test).

Put in some checks and balances to eliminate planning by appeal

Get councils to look after their own population growth first by rewarding those that do - with financial support for infrastruc­ture and amenities and charging those that don’t - with a ‘duty-to-cooperate tax’ to pay those rewards

Introduce a whole-cost of infrastruc­ture policy to charge developers the real costs for increasing capacity for cycles, roads, railways, buses, gas, electric, broadband, water, flood storage, sewage, etc.

Help bring local authoritie­s back into high volume (500k pa) house building by eliminatin­g or severely curtailing the current right to buy system and by a 90% tax on any land-price-premium above agricultur­al

Help eliminate the property price bubble in UK housing by regulating and taxing heavily any form of foreign investment / speculatio­n in UK housing (just as 90% of developed nations do today for their domestic housing)

Introduce taxation based on capital property value for new property that stays empty

Remove the right for inner city authoritie­s to catapult their excess/unplanned housing needs over the green belts into non-neighbouri­ng boroughs

Eliminate positive feedback (microphone squeal / howl) in housing need calculatio­ns

Introduce a policy of rewarding local areas with social infrastruc­ture funding to provide more hospitals, GP surgeries, dentists, schools, shops etc. to match population

Raise the fees for planning applicatio­ns to match the true cost based on actual local experience of previous applicatio­ns and appeals

Introduce measures to manage price/earnings ratio for rental & purchase property in an area together with tax breaks for those who live close to their workplace

Whether or not any one of the above is currently regarded as practical or affordable isn’t the point. The reason they’re listed here is to demonstrat­e that there are alternativ­es to yesterday’s breakfast leftovers being chopped up and warmed over to then be marketed as tomorrow’s fine dining.

The Last Word

Goes this week to a Wokingham resident, Colin George, who’s launched an ePetition to get real debate in parliament on the above, instead of more bumph from the Ministry.

The rules of the government’s ePetition website means that his petition can only propose a solution to a couple of the points above and it’s aimed to ‘prevent developers and land speculator­s from “gaming the system” in UK housing’.

You can vote for it online at https://petition. parliament.uk/petitions/212794.

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