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Let housebuilders bypass full planning process – ministerial adviser

Bringing housing within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime could “relieve hard-pressed local authority budgets”, a report co-commissioned by the chair of a new cross-industry government panel has found.

The report, ordered by planning consultants Quod and law firm Bond Dickinson but carried out by independent researchers, determined that the government should consult on the idea “as a matter of urgency” – in face of a “clear imperative” for Whitehall to show political leadership in “driving large-scale housing development in the national public interest”.

It was based on the views of a wide range of housing and planning experts from both the public and private sector. They found that while there is support for new housing to address the market crisis, this is “unlikely to happen” without new legislation that helps overcome current barriers in the planning system to creating large-scale housing.

One contributing expert said “no local authority is able to deal with applications of a big scale”, justifying the need for a national solution. Another said “some form of intervention” was needed to fix the housing crisis.

One of the authors, John Rhodes, was appointed chair of a new government panel launched by planning minister Brandon Lewis MP last week. The panel is tasked with streamlining councils’ planning processes.

Rhodes said: “Remedying the chronic under-provision of housing should be an economic and a social priority. At present, however, developers are denied access to the national infrastructure planning process for housing proposals and thereby denied the use of the single most effective regime for delivering development.

“With appropriate safeguards in place, the use of the NSIP programme would transform the ability of the private sector to make a meaningful contribution to the national housing crisis.”

The NSIP regime was brought forth by the Planning Act 2008 to consent to nationally significant infrastructure projects, allowing promoters to apply directly to the planning inspectorate for a consent order. The application is heavily consulted on and independently examined within a fixed timetable before inspectors make a recommendation to the state secretary.

Rhodes added that the regime has “proved effective” in enabling these projects to happen “efficiently and fairly” and has been extended to include business and commercial development.

“There is no logical reason to why is should not be applied to assist the country’s greatest development need: the need for housing,” he said.

However the report’s authors said adding housing to the NSIP programme “would not be without controversy” due to some of the “perceived democratic deficits” of its approach to circumventing council planning processes and “often high levels of opposition to new housebuilding”.

But it added that a solution will not be found if the government is “weak in the face of opposition”.

The report noted that the NSIP regime could create opportunities to work with councils and other organisations in bringing forward housing “in the right locations”.

It said that, as the system currently stands, securing planning consent in a “reasonable time frame” is “extremely difficult” without local authority support – and that, even when councils support or promote an application, decisions are hindered because of “the complex range of consents and agreements that are required”.

Because of this, the resources and complexity of assembling land “are likely to discourage” councils and the private sector from suggesting “innovative ideas for sustainable settlements”.

According to the authors, NSIP regime could therefore help address many of these barriers to help accelerate and facilitate housing development as well as “create more confidence” for investors.

The report quoted the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), which represents planning professionals across all sectors: “Infrastructure of nationally importance takes a NSIP process where decisions are made at a central level. There may well be housing sites of a certain large size or as part of a nationally significant project of mixed uses, particularly where they will make a large call on national funding, that this route may offer possibilities for.

“This would be one option to ensure that housing can command a nationally significant status. It would also provide national leadership, vision and decision making.”

The current chief executive of the government’s Planning Inspectorate, Simon Ridley, also suggested a possible “scope for discussion” as to whether large-scale housing schemes should be accepted via the NSIP regime.

He was quoted in the report as saying: “I’m not yet betting on it, but I think there is scope for discussion as the government works out how to meet some of its housing aims and ambitions and delivery of garden cities.”

Examples of benefits the policy alteration could bring forward include limiting decision-making to a defined timescale; creating a single process even when the application spans more than one local authority area; increasing the certainty of outcome; and allowing for complex projects with different approval needs to be consented to in a single process as a result of the ‘one stop shop’ format.

Furthermore the DCO process would be modified, with the inclusion of compulsory acquisition embedded within its process. This would create a “stronger bargaining position” with landowners, ameliorate local impact and relieve pressures on council purses – as the process would be funded by the promoter.

Kevin Gibbs, partner at Bond Dickinson, said: “This is a national crisis which needs a national solution. The principles of localism are laudable but the current planning system simply doesn’t ensure that local authorities will deliver housing on the scale we need.

“There is a clear imperative for central government to lift restrictions on housing delivery and show strong political leadership in driving large-scale housing development in the national public interest.”

(Top image c. Rui Vieira, PA Images)


Joan Mctigue   21/09/2015 at 11:44

This could possibly be preferable to the current set up whereby local councillors decide what is built.

Jason H   21/09/2015 at 12:06

This governments approach seems to be to strip LAs down financially to a position where they can no longer diligently handle large applications, then blame the LAs for the housing shortage because they are not considered to be working quickly enough, and then offer the NSIP regime as some knight in shining armour to save the day. This bypasses the Local Plan process, and will of course result in bland repetitive low quality developments featuring standard house types as seen in the 70s and 80s.

Dave Mossman   21/09/2015 at 12:09

This is totally against local democracy which our government is committed to and to allow Whitehall to pass planning of large scale developments is totally ludicrous- they have no idea of local issues, and if this was to go ahead would allow developers to ride rough shod over local councils who represent the local residents. The problem with house building or lack of it is more a supply of basic materials to meet the demand and skilled labour to build the houses- not the fault of local councils.

Jane Wright   21/09/2015 at 12:31

This is a developers'charter! Developers should have to deliver all the houses for which they already have consent before being allowed to apply for more. Or, perhaps even more effective, land which has consent for a dwelling but does not have an occupied house after 3 years should be compulsorily purchased by the LA for a peppercorn amount.

Aureole Wragg   21/09/2015 at 12:39

Where does this leave small villages such as ours who want a few small low cost houses, not large numbers of high cost executive homes?

Steven Lugg   21/09/2015 at 13:03

Having failed to legislate for a building regime that works for communities, developers and LA, the government now looks to further exacerbate the problem. Having stripped 75% of the resource out of the planning function 2009-2018 (estimated last couple of years), they now plan to further centralise one of the most centralised countries in the World. Frightening. This would be a disaster.

D.R.Swift   21/09/2015 at 13:33

This is aimed at destroying rural England .Greenfield sites will be targeted by developers with LAs left to provide essential infrastructure after the developer has moved on ,whether they have the resources or not . What is the need for remote decision making unless the lack of accountability is desirable?

John Birnie   21/09/2015 at 13:57

Democracy cannot effectively be administered remotely, as the EU has demonstrated. Centralisation is not a solution to the housing crisis.

No Frills   21/09/2015 at 14:06

Why are planning applications voted on my councillors? Need a change in the law to leave the issues to the experts - Planning directorate in Councils. Rights of appeal can be escalated to a Central Planning Ombudsman (new post to be created)

Nick Draper   21/09/2015 at 15:05

This looks very dangerous indeed, but with luck it could unite town and country, left and right, as local government of all politics and none would find it intolerable. Forget bland - housebuilders would use it as a means to make the most for themselves while ignoring affordability, infrastructure, impact on the environment, in fact just about everything people hold local government accountable for.

Brian Johnston   21/09/2015 at 15:10

What happenned to developers using all the brownfield sites left to rot all around the country? Also how about LAs acquiring all the empty houses by compulsory purchase. These are lying empty in every city and town throughout the country as well, some of which relatives are holding on to granny's or granda's house hoping that they will eventullay get a goldenmine at the end of the rainbow.

Nigel Moore   21/09/2015 at 16:01

Rarely have I seen such bizarre and self seeking idea, Developers are NOT a benevolent group they are purely FOR PROFIT organisation and therefore the current planning process must be maintained .Their grasp of local needs,infrastructure and community cohesion is virtually nil and their benefit offers to the community very rarely materialise plus outline planning usually morphs into something less altruistic and more Dickensian by the time the estate is built If the minister touches this idea I suggest he resigns

Harry Turbyfield   21/09/2015 at 18:02

This is a complete bird briain idea, a retrograde step back to the middle ages. As already stated developers and greedy land owners are only interested in profit, it needs controling but in a sensible way. Protect our AONBs and food producing land etc because we are only a small island with an ever growing population but ignore the protestations from the NIMBYs and "Do Gooder Save the whatever" organisations, Control the cost and selling price of the houses built to give young families a chance to own a home in the area they come from, stop foreigners and others buying property for exccesive private rental. We must use the land stock resourse that we have in the best possible way and only if development is controlled will we be able to do this, compulsory use of brown field sites first. At the moment we are hard pressed to be able to house our population now, so what will it be like in just a few years time now that we have an immigration storm on the horizon? HELP!

Rob   22/09/2015 at 15:46

Whilst curently living in an AONB that 'should' be safeguarded from rampant high value innapropriate development, in the most expensive town in England, where purchasing property carries an average house price currently quoted by Halifax as £650K over the past 2 years (entirely due to a number of property sales in excess of £1million) it is becoming increasingly obvious that we are seeing a drive that is more about the health of the high-end construction industry corporations than housing for those who need truly affordable housing that is priced in accordance with average earnings in any given area. Those are currently around £18k in the area I live, IF you are lucky enough to enjoy full time employment. With a neutered localism bill, an ambiguous Neighbourhood Development Plan process that has many towns and villages running around trying to earnestly pull a plan together for the genuine good of their town, that could well be rubbished by the introduction of this open-season for developers, we really must ask exactly what this governement's policy actually is? Other than feeding the huge development corporations. Further to this, the scaling down of the Judicial Review legal process due to that getting in the way of a fast track development process (see here ) We really do appear to be moving into a Big Brother State situation where true democracy is a thing of the past. It is my firm belief that there should have been a National Planning Poilcy Framework (NPPF) introduced in two forms - An Urban NPPF - and a Rural NPPF. The reason being completely obvious to anyone with a fraction of social understanding, small villages and hamlets and especially 'destination' coastal towns are being bombarded with Planning Applications that feed only the wealthy and/or the second homes market. Developers are taking great advantage of 'their' NPPF charter which totally assists them in buying perfectly good property, demolishing it and constructing some phony contemporary modern glass box right to the boundary. Material objectons to these applications, where design is locally viewed innappropriate, are generally futile under the existing NPPF. So, make the most of our beautiful countryside, especially the AONB areas, and take many photograghs for our future generatiuons because it currently has a very limited life with this government appearing totally convinced it's already well past it's sell by date.

Anne Andrews   23/09/2015 at 11:40

As a Parish Councillor, I thought the Government was trying to encourage more localism with Local Communities having a greater say. This totally contradicts it and is a developers charter. We have many unsold houses in the area and an incomplete development which was abandoned due to lack of demand.

Ann   31/03/2016 at 17:14

This comment from Bob focused on the problem precisely: "small villages ... are being bombarded with Planning Applications that feed only the wealthy and/or the second homes market. Developers are taking great advantage of 'their' NPPF charter ... buying perfectly good property, demolishing it and constructing (another one) ... right to the boundary. Material objectons design is locally viewed innappropriate, are generally futile under the existing NPPF. " Surely the easiest way to get lots more homes built is to regulate what can be built for the next 5 years or so and fund local councils to do what they did in the post-war period - build low cost homes. This crisis ought not to be left to the private sector, which has had a decade to deliver and chosen not to.

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