Tuesday22 August 2017

Call to strip councillors from planning decisions

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New report by Housing Forum calls for planning officers to replace councillors as final decison most smaller housing schemes

A pan-industry forum of housing professionals has called on the government to ‘de-politicise’ housing and take decision-making for planning applications of less than 250 homes away from elected local officials.

In a new report designed to ‘futureproof’ housing supply, The Housing Forum has issued a 10 point plan to deal with the crisis, stating that planning officers for local authorities should be in charge of all applications of less than 250 homes and not councillors.

The plan, which would also include appointing a cabinet-level housing minister who can directly commission new homes on public land, would dramatically change how planning is decided at all levels of government.

Called Future proofing housing supply, the report also says councils should also be encouraged to become leaders in housing delivery and the government should implement the call made in last year’s Farmer Review call for the modernisation of housebuilding skills and technology to address the skills shortage in construction.

The report stated: “Housing should be depoliticised. To achieve a more consensual, non-party-political approach to housing developments at local level, directly elected members should set strategic planning policy but decisions on individual planning applications below 250 homes should be made solely by the professional planning teams.

“Historically, the outcomes of planning applications are often unpredictable and inconsistent. Our solution seeks to remove the time delays and additional costs caused when planning applications are recommended for approval, refused at committee but then awarded planning permission through appeal. This uncertainty has been highlighted as a key reason why small, medium and large developers limit their investment in the sector.”

Stephen Teagle, chief executive, partnerships and regeneration at Galliford Try and deputy chairman of The Housing Forum, said: “The government’s focus on supply through a broad range of measures is welcome and will contribute to lifting the supply of new homes we need.

“This report takes that ambition a stage further – calling for renewed leadership at a local level, greater investment and a strengthened platform for collaboration to future-proof delivery over the next decade.

“We have to recognise as an industry that the government’s renewed focus on housing supply presents an opportunity for the sector to push for the kind of change that can make a real difference.”

The report was compiled by the Housing Forum’s working group members which include HTA partner Mike De’Ath, Levitt Bernstein architect Zohra Chiheb, PRP director Philip Pamment with contributors including Arcadis partner Richard Jones.


Housing Forum’s recommendations for the housing industry

1. Housing should be depoliticised. Take party politics out of housing strategy and delivery by creating cross-party housing groups and removing elected members from decision making on some planning applications.

2. Government to appoint a Housing Minister to the Cabinet and directly commission new homes on public sector land.

3. All local authorities must become more pro-active leaders of housing supply. The housing sector needs all local members and council officers to capitalise on this position and drive housing supply.

4. Create a single voice for the housing industry. A single message delivered by a new housing industry body would enable clear, powerful and effective communication with Government.

5. Government and industry to implement the Farmer Review’s call for modernisation of housebuilding skills and technology to address the looming skills crisis.

6. Local authorities should be encouraged to sell land by judging potential buyers against ‘best value’ factors including the speed of delivery of new homes.

7. Central and local government to revise the planning system so it favours increased supply including PRS / Build for rent and encourages the allocation of sites of different sizes so as to attract interest from a range of builders.

8. Government to agree a long-term, large-scale capital investment plan for housing for the next 10 years.

9. Give local authorities the financial mechanisms to directly commission new housing and greater freedom for risk sharing with the private sector.

10. Create a centre of excellence for procurement expertise for use across the sector.


Readers' comments (14)

  • Who will be the judge of what constitutes 'good architecture'? Many planners I have met are not 'switched on' to contemporary design or historic building stock design parameters. Granted, local councillors are also lay people, but at least they can be lobbied by the interested, and at times very well informed/educated public, and can be held publicly accountable. Is the same true for civil servants?

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  • As a local Councillor sitting on Planning in Kensington and Chelsea I can see some good ideas here and some quite appalling.
    If officers - who are paid for their work - are in charge of decision-making, where is the accountability? Councillors - who are elected and get (mostly) a small allowance - are in the front line and have to account for their actions. If all the housing projects over 250 units were agreed by officers, we Councillors would have to sit and watch, and deal with the consequences, of endless super-prime housing schemes built and nothing whatever for local people.
    These decisions ARE political, but often small 'p' not party political, nb the decision of Planning Committee to refuse the development of Sutton Estate in Chelsea, which was almost unanimous.
    Cllr Emma Dent Coad

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  • Is there ANY discussion out there about the QUALITY of this housing? Who is going to guarantee that the whole of the UK is not going to be papered over with shoddy, ill-conceived, soulless housing built by the usual mediocre mass house-builders? We need to get back to basics before we take all the brakes off building and planning. YES to lots and lots of housing, but urban design, place-making, longevity, character, materials, diversity, sustainability all need to be debated first, and conclusions implemented. Our society needs QUALITY. We are descending more and more into architectural hell. Hardly anything that is built these days matches the quality of previous generations. Can we really live with this? Is this what we want to leave our children?Let's talk about this, SOON. Barbara Weiss Skyline Campaign

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  • Austin Clegg

    'De-politicise': an ugly euphemism for excluding local people from decisions about what happens in their own areas and putting it into the hands of 'experts'.

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  • They must be joking! Whilst councillors should be adjudicating controversial decisions, 250 units is a ridiculously high bar. Most local planning authorities don't have any applications that large. Indeed, 25 units might be too high in some cases.

    Secondly, in most cases this is not a question of party politics. A planning committees are usually non-party political in their decisions.

    This is just special pleading!

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    While you're about it why not just do away with planning altogether?

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  • Many years ago Building Design ran a headline “A junior planning officer told me that (a scheme) wouldn’t do. I asked what her training was. She said she was a geographer . . .“

    Sadly our current crop of planning officers are inadequately trained in the design of buildings and should not be in positions where they can approve or refuse anything, not even on delegated powers – but their advice to councillors is obviously important. Elected councillors must take the decisions – even though they may well have no design or planning expertise either - but they are elected by local voters and can be thrown out by local voters.

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  • @Robert shaw - our current crop of planning officers may be inadequately trained in all sorts of things including the design of buildings. So they take advice from others where their expertise is wanting eg Design Review Panels and various consultants.
    But they must be in positions where they can approve or refuse anything, because that is the nature of their local govt. job and decisions would take longer otherwise.

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  • at least there would then only be one brown envelope to provide

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  • @peter cutmore - if yours is a response to mine, can you explain please.

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