Chelgate Local Newsletter – February 2020
This month: Do we see a shift?, What could the conservative victory mean for housing?, Are Councillors at risk of losing their decision-making powers from planning? The importance of community engagement in planning and Government Cabinet Reshuffle 2020.
Do we see a shift?
By Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property
Three local plans have failed, and there are rumours that the Ministry is becoming more proactive. Sevenoaks, Uttlesford and now St Albans local plans have all hit the buffers and MHCLG has been pushing various councils to make more progress.
The Sevenoaks local plan foundered late last year as the inspector felt the council had failed in its duty to cooperate with neighbouring councils. The council will have to decide whether to accept the inspector’s view and withdraw the local plan or challenge the decision in the courts. With the numbers involved and the constraints within Sevenoaks, this will have impacts on adjoining authorities such as Tandridge and Tonbridge and Malling.
Last month the Uttlesford local plan was halted. One of the inspectors’ concerns was over the reliance on three garden communities for a significant proportion of housing numbers. The inspectors suggested that one garden community, to the north jointly with South Cambs, should be dropped. Even with an adopted plan, the council was unlikely to achieve a five-year land supply. The council has the choice to withdraw the plan now, but it is likely to wait to see what happens with the North Essex Joint Plan. This has just entered the next stage of its examination in public and includes three large garden communities: Braintree, Colchester and Tendring. A third of the Braintree garden community is within the now unsound Uttlesford Plan. A similar withdrawal of a community in North Essex was rumoured to be West Tey but could that change to Braintree?
The inspector has done the new Uttlesford administration a huge favour as Residents4Uttlesford was elected last May on the basis of opposing the local plan. But have they? Now the district is facing two or three years of speculative development with little or no control and significantly less developer contributions. What is more, the new local plan, which will have more numbers and focus more on existing settlements, will come forward during the run-up to the next local elections.
Just last week the St Albans local plan inspector suspended the examination in public citing “serious concerns” about the document’s “legal compliance and soundness”. St Albans has the second oldest local plan in England and this is its second attempt to progress its local plan. It is understandably one of the councils on the MHCLG ‘naughty step’ and the ministry is rumoured to want to make an example of one council to get all the others motivated to get on with things – could it be St Albans?
It is more likely to be South Oxfordshire which looked like it wanted to withdraw its local plan last summer until MHCLG stepped in. Robert Jenrick gave the council until the end of last month to submit evidence as to why it has not progressed its local plan and hinted that he may ask Oxfordshire County Council to take over.
This removal of plan-making powers was also threatened to Castle Point earlier last year when it failed to vote through its draft local plan for Reg 19 consultation. Essex County Council was being lined up to take over there, although it is not known how far those discussions went. Castle Point has now managed to get its local plan through council and is just about to complete its Reg 19 consultation ready for submission.
MHCLG does appear to be more active now that the General Election is over and Brexit pushed through. This will continue as Mr Jenrick has kept his job in the reshuffle earlier today. Esther McVey, however, in the true tradition of housing ministers, has lost her job just four months after being appointed – that is nine ministers since 2010, almost one a year! Continuity and application is what is needed now to push through the many local plans and get some way to achieving the Government’s 300,000 homes per year aspiration.
It does appear, however, that the Inspectorate is moving in the opposite direction, which will certainly not help with that aspiration. Is it toughening-up its approach? It was widely believed that inspectors were being pushed to get plans through even if it meant modifications and early reviews.
We are seeing shifts from both MHCLG and the Inspectorate, but it does appear to be in different directions!
What could the Conservative victory mean for housing?
By Alia Khan, Consultant
In the December 2019 General Election, the Conservatives enjoyed a landslide victory, winning 365 seats with a majority of 79. Following his election victory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to “work round the clock to repay your trust and to deliver on your priorities”. Could this mean that the Johnson administration will start focusing on domestic issues such as the housing crisis with as much urgency as Brexit?
With the housing crisis still at large, the 2020 election manifesto suggested that the Conservatives would be a government with a focus on home ownership.
The conservatives have maintained their pledge of delivering 300,000 homes a year by the end of parliament. Furthermore, the government also said it will ‘commit to renewing the Affordable Homes Programme, in order to support the delivery on hundreds of thousands of affordable homes.’ However, very little detail on how this target will be achieved is provided.
It is important to note that the same pledge of delivering 300,000 homes a year was made in 2015, yet failed to meet this target, whereby in November 2019, and independent spending watchdog found that not a single house was built as a result of a Conservatives pledge to create hundreds of thousands of new homes. Will Johnson’s administration learn from this and focus on delivering on its target of building new homes, this only time will tell.
With the Government target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, it is likely for the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government to adopt a climate change agenda and hand down legislation which would force developers and the construction industry alike to deliver carbon neutral developments.
Furthermore, the Conservative government is expected to pass the Environment Bill which had to be withdrawn once the election had been called. The Bill included mandatory requirements for developers to secure an overall 10% biodiversity net gain in new schemes, while local authorities will have to draw up spatial local nature recovery strategies.
The conservative manifesto pledged that it would ‘make the planning system simpler for the public and small builders’, but elsewhere, there was a focus on building infrastructure – including social infrastructure, such as schools and GP surgeries – before people move into their homes which adds to further risk for developers.
The government was expected to launch an Accelerated Planning White Paper, but following the announcement of the General Election, the UK entered a period of Purdah which meant no major policies could be announced by ministers. However, the government is now likely to revive the planning white paper, which will presumably ‘allow local authorities to charge higher planning application fees, provide automatic fee rebates and tighten up on pre-commencement conditions’, which does the opposite to making planning easier for the public and small builders.
Furthermore, changes to the permitted development (PD) rights are expected as poor-quality office to residential conversions managed to gain negative coverage. At the Conservative conference, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, confirmed that the government would review the quality of housing produced from this policy.
Now that Britain has exited the European Union, perhaps the government of the day will now make more of an effort to shift their focus on more pressing domestic issues; the housing crisis.
Are councillors at risk of losing their decision-making powers from planning?
By Ruby Burdett, Consultant
The report put forward last week by the free market think tank ‘Policy Exchange’ was anything but tedious. Titled ‘Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century’ the report cannot be accused of lacking imagination, but based on its revolutionary character, the likelihood of it being taken forward is minimal.
In short, the report promotes a total split from the current planning system process, recommending radical modifications to bring the system into modernity. It is arguable that one suggestion, from a rather exhaustive list of proposed changes, is unduly contentious. The report notions to strip councillors of their role in planning applications, seeing that once the local plan is in place, the process will become solely administrative and free from politics.
However, the chances of these propositions carrying any weight are slim. The link that councillors provide between the community and the council are crucial in representing citizenry voices. Considering that planning decisions will affect residents for years to come, it is arguably critical to ensure that the priorities of the public are represented by councillors. To strip councillors of the powers they were elected to execute by the local community, could be considered more than controversial, and perhaps undemocratic.
Planning also often comes with strong emotional ties, which may be felt by campaigners or resistors to new developments. This is where councillors play a key role in mitigating and representing residents, and where so-called millennials yearn to replace the human touch with a computed administrative process. It is easy to conclude that the prospect of the public favouring a report which will surrender their representative voice in local planning is more than unlikely, and almost comparable to the idea of turkeys voting for Christmas.
On the off chance that these suggestions reach the governments agenda, it is unlikely that the idea to sidestep councillors will amount to any real significance. Roger Hepher, director at HGH planning consultancy predicts that the report would receive a high level of negativity, sparking ‘howls of protest’. No obvious motive from the ministers nor the electorate can be determined to cut out councillors from planning decision-making. On the basis that widespread support for this masterplan is improbable it could be safe to assume the power of councillors will remain intact.
The importance of community engagement in planning
By Alia Khan, Consultant
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) held their annual Nathaniel Litchfield Lecture and focused it on participation in planning 50 years after the Skeffington report.
The lecture was delivered by Professor Gavin Parker, member of the RTPI and Professor of Planning Studies at the University of Reading. He provided a thought provoking and at times a controversial talk on public participation in planning and how far the industry has come since the publication of the Skeffington Report.
The Skeffington Report, ‘People and Planning’, was a report of the Committee on Public Participation in planning, chaired by Arthur Skeffington MP. The committee was appointed in 1968, to assess how the public might become more involved in the creation of local development plans. The committee was set up following the primary legislation in 1968, and published its report in 1969. Essentially, the Skeffington Committee was set in place to translate the statutory requirements of public participation in planning.
The Skeffington report highlighted 9 key points:
- Public should be given more information and advised on planning activity
- Wide publicity should be afforded for planning activity
- More efforts need to be made on educating the public about planning needed
- The people involved in research need to inform the public on plans
- Input from the public should be accepted throughout the plan process
- Participation should be from a diverse pool
- Community forums should be set-up
- Community development officers to be employed
- Participants should be informed of the use of their inputs
Marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Skeffington Report, Professor Parker argued that the report was as relevant today as it was 50 years ago, and that there was a continuing need for planners to be more strident in how they promote the profession. “Participation should not be an add-on,” he said, “it should be at the core of what we do.”
Professor Parker then explained that the post-war era brought in a new wave of disdain and distrust towards planners and planning processes. Furthermore, the Raynsford review in 2018 found that the Skeffington report was not being implemented, stating; ‘government has not sought to comprehensively understand the views of the key end-users of the planning system: the wider public’.
As a solution, Professor Parker proposed that the only way to be able to fully engage the public would be to hand ownership of planning to the public. He explained that his main reasoning for proposing public ownership of planning was based on the Grosvenor research in July 2019 which revealed the general public tend to distrust developers and local authorities, thus this would encourage planners, developers and architects to further engage consistently and persistently with communities and groups that need engagement the most, with those who would be most affected by new developments and changing landscape of their communities.
Overall, the lecture summed up various ways of improving public participation in planning. Vice-President of the RTPI also spoke briefly and emphasized the report’s continuing relevance, she said that the principle of public participation “can improve the quality of decisions by public authorities and give personal satisfaction to those affected by decisions.”
Finally, she concluded; “The Skeffington Report formed a marker in the sand in terms of community engagement in the planning system, so, 50 years on, what better time to reflect on the subject?”.
It is fair to say that 50 years after the Skeffington report, the recommendations of the report are still very relevant. It has become increasingly important to engage communities in planning processes, it is also worth noting that more developers today are recognising that by working together with communities, it leads the way to help shape and create places where people want to live, work and relax now and in the future.
If you have any questions about how we can help you with stakeholder and community engagement support, please give Chelgate Local a call on 020 7939 7939 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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