Design by Peter Mercer (@shouldvent) From Labour Party Graphic Designers August 2020 Artpack
The Government has put forward its reforms for the planning system in its White Paper, Planning for the Future. I am deeply concerned by what’s been proposed, for the reasons I set out below:
This is a Developer’s Charter
Since Boris Johnson came to power, the Tories have received £11 million in donations from property developers. This White Paper seems to be the Governments way of returning the favour.
The aim of the reforms is said to “simplify and accelerate” the planning process. What is actually proposed would weaken the protection of green spaces and offer a free-for-all for property developers to build without regard to quality, affordability, sustainability or scrutiny.
It would jeopardise local democracy
This White Paper would take decision-making power away from local communities. Local people would no longer be able to formally object to planning applications on their own streets, and the only say they have over what their community looks like is by responding to a local plan every few years.
As a former councillor I’m deeply troubled by the spirit of this White Paper. Local people and their councils know better how to shape their communities than Whitehall-appointed boards of developers.
Over the past year in my constituency alone I have seen far too many planning applications wanting to destroy local wildlife to build unaffordable housing and car-dependent enclaves, such as the proposed new township in the Loxley Valley; or demolish key sites of Sheffield’s heritage and history, such as the Plough Inn.
Thanks to the efforts of local campaigners and forward-thinking from our city’s Planning Committee, acts of architectural vandalism can been refused. Our planning system has a vital role to play in protecting and enhancing our natural and built environment, and by removing local oversight the Government are giving a carte blanche to money-driven property developers.
It does nothing to solve the crisis of affordable housing
The Government claim that these reforms are needed because the current planning system is a barrier to building the homes that our country needs. However, the housing crisis we face is a crisis of affordable housing. Not only does this White Paper do nothing to address this, it will instead make it worse.
The Government is proposing to remove existing funding streams for affordable housing with no clear plan for what will replace it. They also seek to lift existing requirements for developers to build include affordable homes in small and medium sized developments.
As the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has said, these measures will do “almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes”.
This will only lead to further failure to deliver high-quality homes for people can afford to live in.
Failing to deliver on climate justice
The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. If we are to seriously face up to the challenge of the climate crisis then we need a planning system that can do this.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England have called this a missed opportunity for the climate:
‘The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral homes by 2050 is pitiful and represents 34 lost years given that the Code for Sustainable Homes aimed to achieve the same thing by 2016 and was dropped by the government. If this government is serious about tackling the climate emergency it needs to be much, much more ambitious on new builds.”
The ambition is unfortunately woeful when we consider the planning system we could have.
A new planning system is needed, but this isn’t it
While the planning system needs some reform, the real problems with it are the lack of affordable housing, poor quality homes being built, and no recognition of the climate crisis. As it stands the Planning White Paper would make all these problems worse.
The Government could be empowering local authorities to regenerate brownfield sites and build more affordable homes where they are needed. Councils could be retrofitting and innovatively reusing existing empty buildings to give them a new lease of life, and decarbonising existing housing stock to deliver with the climate emergency.
Architect and urban critic Michael Sorkin once wrote that “If one were to stipulate, for example, that a harmonious neighbourhood should provide everyone with critical elements of daily life—work, commerce, recreation, education, environmental management—within walking distance of home, the implications would be both immediate and deep.”
We could be creating walkable neighbourhoods to transform the health and wellbeing of our local communities and challenge the climate crisis, but instead the Government is choosing to invite developers to build car-dependent enclaves over our green belt.