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New planning laws ‘will be an absolute disaster’

Social housing at risk in government shake-up, says Town Hall

07 August, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Cllr Martin Klute: ‘Regulation is there to ensure there is a high standard of development, and that we can have control over the type of development. Eroding this is the thing that worries me’

TOWN Hall chiefs have criticised the latest government changes to planning laws, warning it will open the door to developers “shirking their responsibility to build social housing”.

Guidance on new rules were unveiled yesterday (Thursday) in what prime minister Boris Johnson has claimed will be the “biggest shake-up to the planning system since the Second World War”.

Ministers say they will help to get the country building in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown.

But councillors in Islington have poured cold water on Mr Johnson’s overhaul saying it will be an “absolute disaster” for the borough.

Section 106 agreements, which have been the legal tool used by councils to force developers to build social housing or other community benefits as part of any scheme, are set to be scrapped.

This is on top of a potential expansion of controversial Permitted Development Rights (PDR) – a measure that means fewer works need full planning approval – announced last week.

Housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward said: “This government needs to look at the facts instead of clinging to ideology. There is clear evidence right here in our borough that Permitted Development Rights, allowing change of use to residential, force out local businesses and allow developers to shirk their responsibility to build social housing.”

He added: “We will not solve the housing crisis by creating dormitory cities for the richest. When you actually look at the evidence, it’s clear that the planning system is working. Ninety per cent of planning applications are approved.”

PDR currently allows developers to convert offices into homes without permission from a Town Hall planning committee where battles for more social homes are often played out.

Figures obtained by Jennette Arnold, the London Assembly member representing Islington, last year found that of the 62 homes built in Islington under PDR since 2013, less than 25 per cent were affordable, while 15 homes did not meet minimum space standards.

Under the new arrangements, set to come into law in September, PDR will be extended to allow shops to be converted into homes or restaurants and allow fast-track extensions of tower blocks and two-storey extensions on private homes. It is understood that the council’s current attempts to push back on the use of PDR will be nullified by this.

Planning chairman Cllr Martin Klute said: “We have lost a huge amount of small business premises across Islington because of it [PDR]. Regulation is there to ensure there is a high standard of development, and that we can have control over the type of development. Eroding this is the thing that worries me.”

The government also announced yesterday that councils are to be given up to three and half years to designate areas for growth, renewal or protection. Once agreed, however, local politicians will have little or no say over specific applications that fit the rules.

A Ministry of Housing spokeswoman said: “Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this government and is an important part of our plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus. Like any other project, homes built under permitted development rights must meet rigorous building regulations.”

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