Friday, August 28, 2015

Could the Communities Secretary please stand up?

Having seen one written ministerial statement set aside by the Courts for 'incompatibility with the statutory regime', the Chancellor George Osborne has collaborated with Sajid Javid the Business Secretary in issuing "Fixing the Foundations" which included planning policies equally incompatible with existing statutory framework (ie the removal of the zero carbon target for new housing and 'allowable solutions').  Now the Chancellor has collaborated with Elizabeth Truss the Environment Secretary in producing the Rural Productivity Plan to support economic growth in rural areas.  It says that, "   We will reform planning laws, making it easier for villages to  allocate land for a small number of new homes...". Assuming that the Chancellor (and Environment Secretary) don't know the difference between 'policy' and 'law', I am taking it that they only intend  policy to change.

I might have missed it, but I have not seen the Communities Secretary (or the Planning Minister) endorsing either of these publications.  As a practitioner, I would find it really helpful if changes to the planning system were proposed from the Department responsible for the planning system, properly consulted on and not issued from other departments on an ad hoc basis.  The danger is incompatibility with the system causing incoherence, confusion and rebound effects (actually part of the Judge's comments in the West Barks case finding Mr Pickles' attempt at removing the obligations from small developments to be counter productive - Mr Pickles having a more limited understanding of the purposes of the planning system than The Rt Hon Clark, his successor).  We must be grateful to West Berks and Reading Borough (and Cornwall Council) for challenging Mr Pickles' small development exemption, but cannot rely on similarly incensed and sufficiently endowed councils to challenge every misguided ministerial statement on grounds of 'incompatibility'.   However, it is doubtful that LPAs are getting in the way of small developments in villages (except perhaps in the Green Belt - that Osborne and Truss are unlikely to disturb) and that local plans are probably already addressing these matters in considered and balanced ways that might not be compatible with edicts from Defra and the Treasury.

The Chancellor's idea seems to take the concept of starter homes discounted for the first time buyers targeted at urban brownfield land and replicate such schemes in villages - again free of obligations.  So discounted free market housing is to be supported without the obligation to provide affordable housing for rent? Are landowners already looking to raise the price of potential sites to eat into the proposed discount?

Taking the systemic approach (ie how planning should be practiced) the need is for small dwellings for both starter homes (in high priced areas these are most likely to be for rent, self-build and/or equity share) and suitable for downsizing to release some of the larger family stock that is currently under-occupied, some of which could be divided into smaller units. Developments should mixed and not limited to first time buyers.  Building new smaller dwellings simply as starter homes is a typical narrow minded if not ideological intervention which will more than likely have unintended consequences.  It is likely to be the Communities Secretary who will need to make ad hoc adjustments to repair the damage caused by the failure to take a systemic approach in the first place.

1 comment: