Thirsk and Malton Labour Party has formally lodged detailed objections to Government proposals to sweep away local control of development and impose a doubling of house building in Ryedale and Hambleton. We have instead called for a simplification of the current system which would make it easier for local communities to influence plans and get development that meets actual local needs. We have also called for scrapping of the current system for financing infrastructure and affordable housing which puts the cost on buyers of new houses pushing already high prices up even further. And we have called for a fundamental review of the system of funding and providing new affordable homes to ensure that the right number and type of homes is actually delivered for those that need it in the places they need it. Our full submission is reproduced below; his is the Government proposal Planning for the Future
The consultation closed on 29th October 2020. Thirsk and Malton Labour Party also contributed to the submission made by Labour Housing Group.
2020 White Paper: Planning For the Future – Consultation
Thirsk & Malton CLP Response
Pillar One. Planning for Development
5. Do you agree that Local Plans should be simplified in line with our proposals?
No. We object to the three zone system as proposed and the presumption in favour of approval that goes with it. The Local Plan system, along with the planning system in its entirety, including Neighbourhood Plans, urgently needs to be greatly simplified, but not on the lines proposed. Contrary to the assertions in the paper the proposals would give greater power to developers, take power away from local councils and do nothing to produce development that meets local needs as perceived by local people. In particular it will do nothing to meet needs for genuinely affordable housing. It will also reduce the ability of local people to prevent or mitigate development which they consider detrimental to their environment or interests.
It is also hugely self-contradictory. The proposal to introduce greater specificity of development in sub areas at the Local Plan stage will actually make Local Plans more complicated. As a result, the process of producing Local Plans will become more complex, and more disputed if local people are allowed a say. The end product will be highly prescriptive, onerous to adapt to changing circumstances and the source of further contention in future.
6. Do you agree with our proposals for streamlining the development management content of Local Plans, and setting out general development management policies nationally?
No. It is accepted that the system for development management needs simplifying but the thrust of the proposals is to dehumanise the process and remove local input. The aim seems to be to take people out of the system and replace them with algorithms, the ‘decisions’ of which could not be questioned.
This is in direct conflict with the aim of building beautiful put forward in Pillar 2. While automated admin procedures would have benefits, urban design and planning are at heart questions of human taste and judgement. Removing these will reduce the quality of design, alienate local communities, and ultimately discredit the policy makers responsible.
The one good proposal is use of Design Guides but this is not new. Design guides have been widely used for decades. A general requirement to produce local design guides would be welcome.
The insistence that Local Plans may not repeat requirements that already exist in the National Planning Policy Framework, which itself references a plethora of guidance documents, is ludicrous and exemplifies the technocratic elitist bias of the whole document. A Local Plan must be readily understandable to the lay person, not just developers and consultants. As such it must be a stand-alone document which can be read in plain English without constant cross referencing to other documents.
7(a). Do you agree with our proposals to replace existing legal and policy tests for Local Plans with a consolidated test of “sustainable development”, which would include consideration of environmental impact?
No. There is scope for improving the existing policy tests with a view to making them clearer, simpler to apply and more effective in protecting the environment. However. as no specific proposals are made it makes no sense to seek agreement at this stage to getting rid of the existing protections. We are open to review of the current policy tests but vehemently opposed to anything which would weaken protection of the environment.
7(b). How could strategic, cross-boundary issues be best planned for in the absence of a formal Duty to Cooperate?
We oppose the abolition of the Duty to Cooperate. It is essential that all the public bodies with a role or interest in the implementation of Local Plans work together in a mutually supportive way to that end. This can only be secured if they are involved in production of the Plan and committed to co-operate in its implementation. The Duty to Co-operate could therefore only be abolished if it is replaced by a requirement which does the same job.
8(a). Do you agree that a standard method for establishing housing requirements (that takes into account constraints) should be introduced?
A standardised method already exists but it is overcomplicated and has been subject to frequent change. It needs to be simplified so that it can be readily applied by local authorities using published demographic data, without recourse to consultants, and can be readily understood by the lay person. The complexity of the current method is unnecessary and the proposition underlying it, that greater complexity results in greater accuracy of 25 year projections, is entirely spurious.
The proposal that central government should use any method to impose house building output requirements on every local authority, simply in order to get Local Plan building targets to add up to their national target, is essentially Stalinist and anathema and will lead to costly and time wasting conflict. It has the potential to force unsustainable volumes of house building on local areas, damage the local environment and increase CO2 emissions through increased commuting. The problem of how to resolve local authorities’ differing perceptions of housing need is one created by the Tory government when it dismantled the regional planning structure with the Localism Act in 2011.
8(b). Do you agree that affordability and the extent of existing urban areas are appropriate indicators of the quantity of development to be accommodated?
Absolutely not. The linking of the affordability gap to volume of building by this model represents an utter failure to understand the housing market. The government’s premise that shortage of affordable housing is the result of shortage of land is false. Developers are currently sitting on planning approvals for one million homes. However much land is allocated for housing private developers will only build at a rate which sustains prices and protects their rate of profit.
This government and its Tory predecessors have been instrumental in creating the shortage of affordable housing by forcing the sell-off of existing social housing and preventing the provision of new social housing to replace it.
If the government is serious about giving every household access to a good quality home at a cost they can afford the starting point has to be to identify the actual shortage of affordable housing in each Local Plan area. Local Authorities should then be required to proactively develop and implement programmes to produce the affordable homes required and to ensure their allocation based on local need. This cannot be done using planning legislation alone.
9(a). Do you agree that there should be automatic outline permission for areas for substantial development (Growth areas) with faster routes for detailed consent?
No. It removes Local Authorities and local communities from the crucial parts of the decision-making process. Outline permission covers more than a general agreement to develop. It establishes the broad nature and scale of a specific development proposal and gives the local community the opportunity to consider whether it wants it. Outline planning permission does not take long to get and is to the benefit of developers as it can avoid wasted work on a detailed scheme which is later rejected.
Eliminating the outline application stage by incorporating it with development plan zoning would make the Local Plan more complicated and onerous to produce. This conflicts with the aim of speeding up Local Plan production and would in effect preclude effective public consultation at both stages.
For the detailed application stage, the intention seems to be to anticipate every design issue that could arise and based on that to pre specify standards which could then be automatically applied to give detailed consent. This is highly impractical, potentially wasteful of scarce staff time and by excluding public consultation likely to increase the mistrust of the planning system that the document claims to want to address.
Every element of these proposals disempowers local communities.
It is also full of contradictions. The document claims to want to simplify but proposes at least five different procedures for obtaining planning permission. Supporting such a range of systems will be an additional burden, will cause confusion and won’t necessarily speed things up. The document claims to want to improve design standards but proposes an automated system for dealing with design matters. If higher quality of design is really a main driver that should be built into the development management system – but it isn’t. The primary driver appears to be speed which conflicts with the aim of better design.
The dual aims of speed and quality are also in direct conflict with the drastic cuts in local authority resources that the government has imposed over the last ten years. Delivery of each requires staff with the time, skills and morale to manage the development process optimally.
Given that the difference between the three zones, Growth, Renewal and Protected, is presented as being scale of development i.e. ‘substantial’, ‘exceptionally large’ and ’everything else’, it would have been useful if the government had defined what these terms actually mean. It suggests that none of this has been properly thought through.
9(b). Do you agree with our proposals above for the consent arrangements for Renewal and Protected areas?
No. As for 9(a)
9(c). Do you think there is a case for allowing new settlements to be brought forward under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime?
Yes. Of course, subject to agreement of scale criteria. There is nothing new about this. The framework used should be based on the New Town Development Corporations which were designed for exactly this scenario, which is tried and tested, were generally successful and widely accepted.
10. Do you agree with our proposals to make decision-making faster and more certain?
No. The further digitalisation of the administrative system is not controversial. The adoption of national data standards should have been done years ago. In fact, it was partially done by DCLG with the National Register of Social Housing which was scrapped in 2011 by the David Cameron government. If this catching up with technology is used to give local communities more control it would be welcome. However, the purpose described elsewhere in the report, to remove human input and automate decision making, is not accepted. The development of digital technology is not the issue but the way the white paper proposes to use it is fundamentally disempowering and highly controversial.
The primary device proposed for making decisions ‘faster and more certain’ is the removal of meaningful consultation from the process. This may please developers but is a mistake. Rather than being a drag on the system, as implied, consultation is an essential part of public scrutiny to ensure decisions are good and development is accepted. Faster bad decisions will in the end benefit no party. Furthermore, the suppression of community input to the formal process will increasingly result in those views being expressed through alternative channels such as protest.
The punitive approach to deadlines for Planning Authorities is despotic and reveals the government’s lamentable attitude to local government. For the planning system to work there needs to be a genuine partnership between local and central government based on mutual respect. The big stick is no basis for this.
11. Do you agree with our proposals for accessible, web-based Local Plans?
Yes, in principle but the document wildly exaggerates the benefits and fails to acknowledge the scale of the task. Another government IT project heading for the rocks. Will the government be funding this?
12. Do you agree with our proposals for a 30 month statutory timescale for the production of Local Plans?
No. The Local Plan system proposed, with complex sub area development specifications and removal of public input from the later detailed planning application stage will make production of Local Plans more complicated and more contentious than at present. It will be impossible to produce them in 30 months on this basis unless effective public consultation is eliminated and plans are steamrollered through. This appears to be the intention and we are vehemently opposed to it.
We agree in principle to drastic speeding up of the timescale and think it could be done by radically simplifying the process, substantially reducing the forward projection time, getting rid of the technocratic and consultant dependent approach to housing needs projections, building in a regular review timescale such as the five years review cycle proposed and rationalising assessment criteria. However it is done it is paramount that genuine consultation with the lay public, as opposed to consultants and developers, is built into the process. Consultation is only genuine if it gives the consultees significant influence on the final product. The current package simply sacrifices consultation and quality for speed.
13(a). Do you agree that Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the reformed planning system?
Yes, in principle but the Neighbourhood Plan system does not appear to be working. Out of roughly 3,000 designated since 2011 only 800 have produced a plan, 150 held a referendum and only about 50 reached examination stage. If Neighbourhood Plans are to be retained the system needs radical review. Neighbourhood plans are onerous to produce and must be properly supported to enable the lay public to engage with their production and buy into the end product. In addition, the current approach produced a lot of plan designations in middle class areas but few in working class areas. This disadvantaging of working class areas must be addressed.
13(b). How can the neighbourhood planning process be developed to meet our objectives, such as in the use of digital tools and reflecting community preferences about design?
Provide substantial professional support for the process of plan production and simplify the process.
14. Do you agree there should be a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments? And if so, what further measures would you support?
Yes. Sites taking over 20 years are clearly a problem for residents and planning authorities. However, the planning system does not give planning authorities powers to manage private sector development. Only New Town or other Development Corporation type bodies could do this.
Pillar Two. Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places
17. Do you agree with our proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes?
Yes. As stated previously design guides are not new. A framework for producing them is welcome, particularly the emphasis on local resident input. However, the weakness is in actually applying them. There is nothing in the package that suggests serious willingness or mechanisms to ensure better standards
18. Do you agree that we should establish a new body to support design coding and building better places, and that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making?
Yes. However, the whole of Pillar Two reads like an undergraduate project. The aims are worthy, but the delivery mechanisms are just not there. It seems based on a belief that the endemic problem of low quality in most new build can be wished away with bureaucratic devices. The underlying problem is that housing in England is grossly overpriced. The wealthy can afford high design standards but most of the rest, particularly those attempting to enter the market, have to reconcile themselves to what they can afford, which in the current market is synonymous with poor quality.
If the government attempted to enforce higher standards it would force prices up further or stall the market or possibly both.
While it is laudable to champion high design standards little will change unless something is done about the structure of the UK housing market. In its 2017 Housing White Paper the government at least recognised that the housing market is broken. The Government then erroneously went on to blame the planning system for holding up housing development and causing a housing shortage. This was a miss-diagnosis arising from the government dogma that the private market is the solution to everything and that therefore if the market is failing to meet needs the solution is deregulation. The fundamental failure of the current white paper is that it is attempting to repair the broken housing market by destroying the planning system too, ‘levelling it to the ground’ as the Prime Minister puts it in his introduction, rather than looking at the housing system itself. The aspiration to raise design standards will fail because of this.
19. Do you agree with our proposal to consider how design might be given greater emphasis in the strategic objectives for Homes England?
20. Do you agree with our proposals for implementing a fast-track for beauty?
No. Doesn’t have much positive substance and the deregulation of permitted development will tend to undermine quality.
Pillar Three. Planning for Infrastructure and Connected Places
22(a). Should the Government replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 planning obligations with a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy, which is charged as a fixed
proportion of development value above a set threshold?
No. The government is right to question the functioning of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 but wrong in the solutions it is putting forward. The report claims that these mechanisms secure contributions from developers and ‘capture land value uplift’. The truth is that they load both the costs of a wide range of infrastructure work and the marginal cost of new affordable housing onto the families who buy the new housing. These are devices for avoiding the government’s direct responsibility for funding both of these areas of cost. Before they were introduced, Section 106 by Margaret Thatcher, CIL by Gordon Brown, these costs were payed out of general taxation. One of the fundamental problems with the UK housing system is that housing is grossly overpriced, a fact which is referred to on page 14 of Planning for the Future. Section 106 and now the CIL are major factors inflating house prices because they operate directly on the prices of new housing coming into the market which represent about a third of all sales. The government likes to present itself as the champion of new households trying to get onto the housing ladder but actually hits them with iniquitous taxes on the price of new housing to pay for things which are general community assets.
A more radical approach is needed. Both CIL and Section 106 should be scrapped. Infrastructure beyond estate works should come out of general taxation as it did until 2010. The whole system of funding and producing genuine affordable housing should be subject to separate fundamental review. Apart from the injustice of loading the costs onto house buyers, Section 106 was always a flawed and inefficient mechanism for providing affordable housing. As it is, the proposal to replace Section 106 with CIL is simply moving from one flawed and bureaucratic system to another, with the considerable risk that both the quantity and quality of affordable housing produced will be reduced.
22(c). Should the Infrastructure Levy aim to capture the same amount of value overall, or more value, to support greater investment in infrastructure, affordable housing and local communities?
Neither. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)
23. Do you agree that the scope of the reformed Infrastructure Levy should capture changes of use through permitted development rights? No. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)
24(a). Do you agree that we should aim to secure at least the same amount of affordable housing under the Infrastructure Levy, and as much on-site affordable provision, as at present?
Need to provide more affordable housing but not through this mechanism. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)
24(b). Should affordable housing be secured as in-kind payment towards the Infrastructure Levy, or as a ‘right to purchase’ at discounted rates for local authorities? No. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)
24(c). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, should we mitigate against local authority overpayment risk? No. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)
24(d). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, are there additional steps that would need to be taken to support affordable housing quality? No. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)
25. Should local authorities have fewer restrictions over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy? No. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)
25(a). If yes, should an affordable housing ‘ring-fence’ be developed? No. CIL should be scrapped. See 22(a)