The district council sector supports the Government’s commitment to build one million homes this Parliament – but it has reiterated its view that local expertise is essential to ensure houses are appropriate for each local area.
The District Councils’ Network is responding to today’s Government announcement on measures to “unblock the planning system and build more homes in the right places”.
While we support the Government’s aims and some of the actions announced – including the extension of the Decent Homes Standard to the private rental sector – will have a positive impact, we are concerned several proposals could lessen local communities’ abilities to ensure development is appropriate, well-designed and meets local needs.
DCN is pleased the Government has announced a new £24m Planning Skills Delivery Fund to ease the pressure on planning departments which has hindered councils’ abilities in recent years to work with developers to ensure appropriate development proceeds. However, the size of this fund needs to be set against the scale of reduction to planning team resources over the past decade.
DCN will fully input into the Government’s consultation on updating the system to produce local plans. We support the goal of reducing cost and bureaucracy but it is essential that local residents and their democratic representatives having a leading role.
District Councils’ Network planning spokesperson Cllr Barry Wood said: “District councils passionately back action to ease the housing crisis but we need to be fully empowered to ensure high standards in new-builds and conversions so developments meet the needs of householders both now and in the future.
“There is a danger that an extension of permitted development rights leads to lower quality, badly situated and potentially unsafe housing to be built. While we support the concept of existing buildings being reused to provide much needed new homes, they need to be safe, pleasant and spacious, or else they risk becoming the slums of tomorrow.
“The £24m investment in planning skills is very welcome. However, member councils repeatedly report that their planning teams are among the most overstretched in local government and have lost countless staff to better-paid private sector roles. The new fund is a positive step but it will be insufficient to end the problems in planning which impact on councils’ ability to approve development.”
The Government also proposes to set up a new central team of planners and other experts to “unblock” developments in specific places, starting with Cambridge.
In response, Cllr Wood said: “While extra resources are urgently required, there is a danger that this proposal will centralise the system, cutting out local people and their democratic representatives from the planning system. We have seen time and time again that it is local communities and local experts who best know local needs.
“It is vital that this does not override the local plans adopted by democratically elected councils, and that the Government also helps to accelerate delivery of much-needed housing on sites within the local plan.”