‘Far from clear’ how planning reforms will help build homes more quickly

Summary findings from Clive Betts’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report on planning reforms:

“The Government should reconsider the case for the three areas proposal.” (Growth, renewal and protected).

The future of the planning system in England – Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

publications.parliament.uk 

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Summary

This report considers the Government’s proposed reforms to the planning system announced in August 2020. It also builds on our predecessor committee’s report into land value capture. We will continue to examine future proposals for reforming the planning system, and stand ready to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the Planning Bill.

We heard consistently in our evidence that there was a need for greater detail about how the Government’s proposed reforms would work. There were concerns about the omission of various important issues relating to housing and to non-housing elements of the planning system.

The Government’s three areas proposal

The Government has proposed that local areas will be divided (through Local Plans) into three parts: growth, renewal and protected, with different planning rules applying in each. We have sympathy with the Government’s wish to enhance the importance of Local Plans, but we are unpersuaded that the Government’s zoning-based approach will produce a quicker, cheaper, and democratic planning system.

The Government should reconsider the case for the three areas proposal.

If the Government does proceed with the principle of the three areas proposal, consideration should be given to the inclusion of additional categories. Further details also need to be provided—particularly around how much detail will be needed in Local Plans, the impact of the three areas proposal on vital infrastructure, and who will determined if Local Plan requirements have been met.

Local authorities should set out detailed plans for growth and renewal areas which specify heights of buildings, density of development, minimum parking standards, access to retail, education, transport, health facilities and other local amenities. This may be by way of a planning brief for particular sites, which may be undertaken subsequent to the local planning process and which is subjected to detailed consultation with local people.

Public engagement and reforms to Local Plans

The Government proposes to shift public engagement from individual planning applications to the Local Plan stage. We found that far more people engage with individual planning proposals and fear that the proposed change will reduce public involvement in the planning process.

All individuals must still be able to comment and influence upon all individual planning proposals.

To ensure that public engagement throughout the planning process is facilitated we welcome the Government’s plan to expand the role of digital technology. The benefits of virtual planning meetings have been demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic and should be retained. This needs to sit alongside exploring new methods of interaction such as citizens assemblies; ensuring the public is consulted about the draft Local Plan before rather than concurrently with Secretary of State; and through retaining more traditional methods of notification about planning proposals such as signs on lampposts.

We sympathise with the Government’s wish to enhance the importance of Local Plans in determining where development should take place. But achieving public acceptance of any increased importance for Local Plans requires them have credibility as an accurate reflection of public views in an area.

We welcome the introduction of a statutory obligation that requires that all local authorities have a Local Plan. We also support a timeframe for introducing the new Local Plans. But we heard it would be impractical to deliver them within the Government’s proposed thirty-month timeframe, and in particular for statutory consultees to comment on each plan during its development. To ensure there is effective cooperation between local authorities the Government also needs to explain how it plans to replace the duty to cooperate that places a legal duty on councils to work together on planning issues that cross their borders.

The Government should consider a staggered roll-out of the new types of Local Plans across the country. It should be permissible and straightforward to undertake quick updates of Local Plans every two years, including with appropriate time for public consultation.

Housing formula

In August 2020 the Government proposed reforms to the current formula (the ‘Standard Method’) used to determine housing demand in each local authority. Whilst our evidence endorsed the principle of having a nationally set formula, the majority disapproved of this new proposed formula. In December 2020 the Government announced a new approach, preserving the existing formula whilst adding an ‘urban uplift’ to the demand figures for twenty major town and cities. This would greatly increase the numbers in those areas. We would like clarity from the Government on how these major towns and cities can deliver the housing demanded given restrictions on the availability of land, both in terms of brownfield sites and constraints posed by seas, rivers and protected green spaces.

We think the Government’s abandonment of its proposed formula for determining housing need is the correct decision. There remains a need for additional information about how the Government’s revised approach, announced in December 2020, might work in practice.

Housing delivery

To meet the Government’s 300,000 housing unit target there is a need to speed up the delivery of housing. The problem of ‘build out’ rates needs to be tackled, with a mixture of carrots and sticks needed to achieve this.

The Government should set a limit of 18 months following discharge of planning conditions for work to commence on site. If work has not progressed to the satisfaction of the local planning authority then the planning permission may be revoked. An allowance of a further 18 months should be allowed for development to be completed, after which the local authority should be able, taking account of the size and complexity of the site, and infrastructure to be completed by other parties, to levy full council tax for each housing unit which has not been completed.

To command public support there also needs to be greater clarity on why and how the housing target needs to be delivered, including why relying on brownfield sites alone would be insufficient.

The Government should lay out the evidential basis for its 300,000 housing units a year target and how it will achieve it, both by tenure and by location.

We support measures to promote specialist, affordable and social housing. Given the failure of the previous Starter Homes programme, a clear timeframe is also needed for delivering First Homes without adversely affecting other housing tenures. To reflect local circumstances, local authorities should have discretion over what proportion of affordable houses must be First Homes.

Funding infrastructure

The Government has proposed replacing the current Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy with a national infrastructure levy. We find that there is a case for replacing the latter, but not the former. Preserving Section 106 will protect against a possible loss of affordable housing. We think that the proposals of the 2017 review into the Community Infrastructure Levy and our predecessor committee’s recommendations for greater land value capture represent the best way of ensuring sufficient revenue. If the Government does proceed it will need to charge various local rates and provide additional funding for the infrastructure that will not be met out of the levy revenues.

Resources

There is a need for additional resources for planning departments, and specialist skills. The pressures on the system will only increase if the Government proceeds with its reforms, including the thirty-month timeframe for Local Plans, at the same time as local planning authorities are also operating the current system.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government should now seek to obtain a Treasury commitment for an additional £500 million over four years for local planning authorities. Providing this certainty of funding should precede the introduction of the Planning Bill.

Design and beauty

We welcome the Government’s commitment to enhance the place of design and beauty in the planning system. It was emphasised to us that this enhancement needs to consider a broader definition of design than one focused on aesthetics, important though that is. This should include ensuring innovations in design are not unduly stifled and the subjective nature of beauty is recognised.

Green Belt, and environmental and historical protections

One of the most contentious issues in planning is the status of the Green Belt. We heard passionate defences of it; whilst also hearing calls for a review of its status.

A review should examine the purpose of the Green Belt, including whether it continues to serve that purpose, how the public understand it, what should be criteria for inclusion, and what additional protections might be appropriate.

A major feature of the planning system since the Second World War has been ensuring the protection of environmental and historic sites and buildings.

We recommend that the Government publish an assessment of the impact of its proposed changes on historic buildings and sites.

Six people from one family have Covid after Devon holiday

Six out of a family party of 10 holidaymakers who stayed at a Devon holiday park during half-term have tested positive with Covid-19 – and they blame poor hygiene.

Colleen Smith www.devonlive.com

They say one of the caravans was particularly dirty when they arrived – and some of the mess included a previous occupants’ discarded test kit.

Now they are terrified that they may have passed on the virus to their elderly father who was too ill to travel with them to Devon because he has serious lung problems. Now he is also feeling ill and the family is awaiting the result of his Covid test.

The holiday was planned as a nostalgic get-together to celebrate the end of lockdown at Devon Cliffs at Sandy Park in Exmouth – which they used to visit as children.

Devon Cliffs owners Haven Holidays say they have strict cleaning protocols in place and say the family did not complain when they first arrived. Haven says no team members has Covid “at the time of the family’s break” and the person who cleaned their caravans has had no symptoms: “Whilst we take all complaints seriously we also hold our cleanliness to the highest standards and would, if we had been made aware on arrival, re-cleaned the family caravan in line with our Caravan Cleanliness Guarantee.”

The family – several of whom work in the NHS – had travelled to Devon from Portsmouth and Derby, because they have happy childhood memories of Devon Cliffs. But now they say: “We wish we had never gone.”

The family say they complained via the check-in App about one of their caravans being dirty – they cleaned up most of the dirt themselves and park owners Haven Holidays came and took away cushions which appeared to have blood stains the following day.

One of the family said: “The cutlery and crockery were all dirty. There are no dishwashers in those vans so we had to clean all of those again. The cushions and walls were dirty with what looked like blood stains.

“When we first arrived mine looked OK at first sight, but my sister told them she wasn’t satisfied and asked to speak to somebody – nobody came and so she went to reception the next day to complain.”

They also found packaging which they later realised was from a Covid test kit discarded by the previous occupants.

One of the party who has tested positive is a senior NHS nursing Sister who has been caring for people with Covid for the last 18 months: “It’s been a horrible time – I’ve not seen my parents in all that time because I wanted to protect them. We didn’t see them at Christmas – and now we have put them at risk and contracted Covid because of poor hygiene.

“It’s not good enough. I’m off work – my daughter works for the NHS and she’s off work. My youngest daughter is a student with a part-time job. She’s off work and won’t get paid – the domino effect of this is massive.”

She drove from Derby with her two grown-up children and picked up her mother. They met up with two of her sisters and four nieces.

The NHS worker said: “I feel exhausted. I suffer with asthma and I am trying to stop it going on to my chest.

“Dad has had part of his lung removed. What worries us is that before we knew we had Covid, some of us hugged dad when we got home. When we left the holiday park – one of my sisters thought she was ill with hay fever on the Friday because they were cutting the grass.

“It wasn’t until we got home that we were tested and found out six out of 10 of us are positive.”

The family has raised the issue with Devon County Council’s Environmental Health department and the CEO of Haven Holidays Jane Bentall.

A spokesman for Haven said: “Since the start of the pandemic Haven has taken a number of steps to ensure that the safety and security of its guests, owners and team remains its number one priority. We have very strict protocols in place in relation to Covid 19 with regard to the cleanliness of our holiday homes and would ask guests to contact our teams immediately on arrival if they find their accommodation has not been cleaned to our high standards.

“In the case of this family, after checking in they updated our arrival app confirming they had reached their holiday home and when asked to score the cleanliness of the caravan and if they required a call back they did not raise any issues.

“The following morning they contacted our team regarding the cleanliness of the scatter cushions which was addressed at the time, with one being taken from the caravan as a stain could not be removed. The cleaning was undertaken by a senior member of the team and the family were happy with the cleaning response. Later that day the family asked if the scatter cushion could be returned which was duly done. No other concerns were raised during the stay.”

The family dispute this and say they ticked ‘not satisfied’ on the check-in App and asked for a member of staff to contact them.

The Haven spokesman said: “Since reopening Haven has made huge investment in cleaning teams including extending the amount of dedicated park teams focused on public areas on park as well as extending the cleaning time allotted to each individual holiday home and the usage of specialist cleaning materials known to kill viruses such as Coronavirus and would refute any claim in relation to this.

“Once a holiday home has been cleaned with particular attention to high touch areas such as work surfaces, handles and television remotes, it is checked by a specialist team member and then a special seal is placed across the door to show it meets Haven’s new standard.

“At the time of the family’s break we had no team members with symptoms of Covid or any team self- isolating, in addition the cleaner who cleaned the caravan also has had no symptoms of Covid pre or post break. We are also not aware of anyone who has stayed in the caravan prior to the family stay that has contracted Covid19.

“Over the course of the last year we have worked closely with the local primary authority who have viewed our standard operating procedures and Covid Risk Assessments and have always been satisfied with our procedures and paperwork. Whilst we take all complaints seriously we also hold our cleanliness to the highest standards and would, if we had been made aware on arrival, re-cleaned the family caravan in line with our Caravan Cleanliness Guarantee.

“We are aware that the family have contacted Environmental Health Officers and we have provided them with full details surrounding the claims from the family.”

Great South West steams back in action, any substance in its latest report?

In September 2017 Owl reported: We’ve had the Heart of the South West LEP! We’ve had the “Golden Triangle” LEP (Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay).We”ve even had the “Golden Quadrangle” LEP (Owl’s suggestion for adding in Cornwall or Dorset).NOW we have the “Golden Pentangle” (adding in Cornwall AND Dorset), yet ANOTHER unelected, unaccountable and non-transparent quango: The Great South West, the LEP for LEPs

In February 2020, with incredibly bad timing, The Great South West sent its latest report to Savid Javid just as he was replaced by Rishi Sunak “The Great South West pitches to the wrong man. A week is a long time in politics”  . Then the pandemic broke.

In July 2020 The Great South West appeared to be defunct, but it has re-awakened in time for the G7 (is anyone in Government listening?):

Report says South West needs ‘levelling up’ as much as ‘red wall’ north

William Telford www.business-live.co.uk 

The South West needs “levelling up” as much as the so-called “red wall” areas of the north, a new report tells the Government.

Pennon, the South West’s biggest employer and parent company of South West Water, has written a document on behalf of the Great South West economic task force calling for the region not to be overlooked in the Government’s plans. The report demands a “green jobs boom” to stop the brain drain of talented young people leaving the region.

The call is timed to coincide with the G7 summit being held in Cornwall from June 11, which looks at the economic challenges and opportunities facing the region.

The report, Levelling Up the Great South West: A G7 Legacy, analyses every parliamentary constituency in Devon and Cornwall and says they deserve as much political attention as those in the electoral battleground of the so-called “red wall” in the North of England and Midlands.

The new ‘levelling up analysis’ in Pennon’s Great South West report finds that:

Devon and Cornwall trail the rest of the UK in terms of productivity – Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has the lowest productivity of any UK subregion, and Devon is the seventh lowest productivity area in the UK.

On a ranking of all parliamentary constituencies in England and Wales by productivity, 13 out of 18 Devon and Cornwall constituencies are in the lowest third, with St Ives, Torridge and West Devon, South East Cornwall, North Cornwall and Torbay in the bottom 25 in the whole of England and Wales.

The working age population of the region is declining as a share of the total, with an exodus of young people to larger urban areas, especially London. 70% of 15-17 year olds in Cornwall say they will need to leave the county in order to obtain a good job.

Many parts of the region have high levels of empty shops, a key indicator of the health of the high street, reflecting low spending levels and lack of investment. In Camborne and Redruth the rate of empty shops is 38% higher than the England and Wales average, in Torbay it is 30% higher, and in Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport it is 43% higher.

The new figures point to some of the biggest economic challenges facing England’s two most south-westerly counties. Yet the report says that with the right investment and support the Great South West has huge potential too.

The combination of the natural environment and environmental science specialisms in the region means Devon, Cornwall and the wider South West could set its sights on becoming Britain’s greenest regional economy, turning global concerns over sustainability into locally-led economic growth.

It recommends that every British region, including the South West, has an economic growth plan delivered by regional leaders with regional accountability; a Transport for the South West body which can champion regional transport infrastructure projects; the delivery of ultra-fast broadband across the region; more investment in research and development in the South West’s advanced manufacturing and environmental science clusters; and more STEM pathways for students in further and higher education in the region.

What is the Great South West initiative?

The Great South West initiative is the coming together of a wide range of organisations across the South West, including three Local Enterprise Partnerships, seven county and unitary authorities, six universities and major businesses.

The Great South West partners published growth prospectus in January 2020 that aims to deliver £45billion of economic benefit and 190,000 new jobs during the next 15 years.

We won! – Good Law Project

Michael Gove broke the law by giving a contract to a communications agency run by long time associates of him and Dominic Cummings, the High Court has decided.

us15.campaign-archive.com /

The Court found that the decision to award the £560,000 contract to Public First was tainted by “apparent bias” and was unlawful. The Court found that Gove’s:

“failure to consider any other research agency… would lead a fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility, or a real danger, that the decision maker was biased” (paragraph 168).

Michael Gove had claimed that the work was such that only Public First could carry it out. However, the High Court rejected that version of events. The simple truth, it held, was that the Cabinet Office didn’t even consider whether anyone else should have the contract.

The decision vindicates Good Law Project’s long-running characterisation of pandemic procurement as “institutionalised cronyism”.

Emails released in the case also showed that both Michael Gove and Number 10 were keen that Public First (and Hanbury) should win no-tender polling contracts. Good Law Project’s judicial review of the decision to award a contract to Hanbury will be heard on 26 July.

The decision is the second in our long slate of crowdfunded procurement judicial reviews – and we have succeeded in both. Two Cabinet Ministers – Michael Gove and Matt Hancock – have now been found to have broken the law.G

Following the first decision, Good Law Project wrote to Matt Hancock making proposals to improve procurement and get better value for money for taxpayers. We offered, if that invitation was accepted, to drop our further procurement challenges to save public money. Mr Hancock did not respond. Since that letter, huge further sums in public money have been wasted in fruitless defence of unlawful conduct.

Good Law Project repeats its invitation to the Government to learn lessons – and to stop wasting more public money staving off political embarrassment.

Good Law Project is grateful to its legal team of Jason Coppel QC and Patrick Halliday of 11KBW Chambers, instructed by Rook Irwin Sweeney. And of course to the tens of thousands of people whose financial contributions make litigation like this possible.

We are the arrow but you draw the bow.

Thank you,

Jo Maugham

Director of Good Law Project