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Councils hit back at government over ‘unhelpful and misguided’ planning laws

A raft of new government housing and planning measures due to be announced today have come under heavy criticism from councils.

It comes after Sajid Javid told The Sunday Times that he would be using new legislation to start “breathing down” the necks of local authorities if they did not keep up with housing targets.

The communities secretary is set to front the new Planning Policy Framework, which will be announced by prime minister Theresa May today, focusing around trying to reach the government’s 300,000 homes-a-year target.

Javid said the new legislation would include rules to strip councils of their planning responsibilities if they do not meet targets, a decision which the LGA has called “unhelpful and misguided.”

Lord Porter, chairman of the association, said councils are doing what they can in approving planning permissions and argued that government policy should be centred around building rather than planning.

“In the last year, councils and their communities granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed,” Porter explained.

“It is completely wrong, therefore, to suggest the country’s failure to build the housing it desperately needs is down to councils. The threat of stripping councils of their rights to decide where homes are built is unhelpful and misguided.

“The last time the country delivered 300,000 homes which this country needs each year, in the 1970s, councils were responsible for more than 40% of them and it’s essential that we get back to that. In order for that to happen, councils have to be able to borrow to build homes again.

“It is essential that councils and their communities are empowered to ensure local development creates prosperous places, that new homes are good quality and affordable, and that they are supported by crucial services and infrastructure such as roads and schools.”

Javid said that the new measures will look to use house prices to inform decisions, he said: “If you are in an area where the unaffordability ratio is much higher you will have to build even more. It will make clear to councils that this number is a minimum, not a maximum.”

He explained that the rules were aimed at stopping councils from pushing back planning in local areas and not playing their part on a national stage.

Jobs and housing

The move has also prompted backlash from both the public and private sectors, with a coalition of organisations sending an open letter to Javid to detail their complaints.

The County Councils Network (CCN) the Home Builders Federation (HBF), the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning, and Transport (ADEPT), and the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) all penned a letter to the secretary of state explaining their opposition.

It said: “We believe that, as currently drafted, the proposed SOCG does not go far enough to mandate joint working across all tiers of local government. This is increasingly important in the context of the Industrial Strategy, focusing on reducing infrastructure gaps and ensuring that everywhere in the country has the same opportunities to encourage more balanced economic growth.

“Promoting the alignment of planning for housing and infrastructure at higher spatial levels will assist in meeting the economic challenges that county areas face, increasing high value jobs and increasing productivity and rebalancing the economy meeting the aims of the government’s Industrial Strategy and promoting sustainable growth across the country.”

Theresa May has looked to put housing at the centre of government policy since the start of her last term, including offering an additional £15.3bn of support for housing schemes over the next five years and removing stamp duty on the first £300,000 of a home.

The measures, announced in last year’s Autumn Budget, were met with criticism by local government for not going far enough to meet the country’s needs.

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Alan Grant   05/03/2018 at 15:33

If government had controlled the amount of people they let into the county, local authorities wouldn't have a housing crisis. They could manage an aging population with a gradual house building program. Javid makes local authority planning very difficult, this just makes it worse

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