Telegraph writer gets Localism Bill wrong

Saturday’s Telegraph readers of the Property section will need to take a large pinch of salt when reading an article written by the Telegraph’s supposed awarding writer, Ian Cowie.

Mr Cowie suggests that last week’s Budget is on the whole beneficial to home owners.  This may well be true, but what isn’t true ,is what he has to say about the new powers the Localism Bill will give to those home owners.

He claims that, ‘……..the Localism Bill should give residents greater power to decide whether or not more fields and woods are bricked over to build new housing,……’  . 

Now I’m not sure what this chap got his award for, but it wasn’t for demonstrating any expert knowledge of what the government’s ambitions are when it comes to the planning system in this country – ambitions that don’t involve preventing house building!

Ian Cowie appears to have missed the bit in the Budget about the planning system being changed to encourage economic growth.  That encouragement will take the form of, as various government minister have taken pleasure in saying over the last 12 months, simplifying the system so as to make it far easier to build things.

So, whilst localism will give local people a say on the types of development that take place in their area, it will definately not give them any powers to prevent development if it has already been included in the council’s development plan for the area.  Nor will communites be able to stop development, and this is the worrying bit, because it has yet to be defined in any useable way, if it is considered sustainable.

Don’t just take my word for it, read the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) response to the budget.

Planning after Localism event

I attended a Westminster Briefing event in London  today, in an attempt to get a better handle on how to make the new system work at the district council level.

There was a very clear feeling amongst those attending, that the new system of neighbourhood planning, if it was to become a success, would need a significant amount of resource putting in.  There was also a feeling that the minister was being extremely optimistic in his belief that neighbourhood planning would bring about any real increase in the number of houses delivered.

Most people also questioned how the New Homes Bonus (NHB), having been created by taking money away from councils in the first place, could be seen as an incentive to councils and communities to build more houses based on increased benefits to the community, as it was likely that most councils would simply use it to plug the funding gap that was now being imposed by government – the lord giveth and the lord taketh away as they say, except in the case of NHB, it’s the other way around – the gov takes it and then gives it back, if you do their bidding!

I asked Bob Neill the minister, who spoke at today’s event, how councils would be able to identify how much extra cash they had been given in the grant settlement, to help communities produce their plans, when councils didn’t know how many communities might want to produce a plan in the first place?  I think he said they were working on it and that I should ask the question as part of the consultation currently going on!

All a bit disappointing really, as I think neighbourhood and community plans could be a very good thing for people to get involved in producing.  Not only would it give them a much greater stake in the way their local area is to be developed, it would also help to get people involved in the planning process in a much more positive and long-term way than they do currently.

Unfortunately, unless the local planning authority has the right level of expertise and resource, it is likely that they are either going to avoid encouraging communities to produce plans, or worse still, actually frustrate the ambitions of those that want to produce a plan, by offering only the very minimum of assistance.

This is a great opportunity for us to show some real leadership and encouragement to our communities, but only if we have the right level of resources to do it well.