Overhaul of planning system is a ‘developer’s charter’
Political rivals split on reforms
13 August, 2020 — By Richard Osley
Labour councillor Danny Beales is concerned by the changes
SWEEPING changes to the planning system are set to streamline the process for developers.
But council chiefs say the government’s overhaul will make it harder for decisions to be properly considered locally and more difficult to secure commitments to affordable housing and other community benefits.
And without stricter controls, there are warnings that more poor quality housing will be built in north London.
Regeneration chief Labour councillor Danny Beales said: “The proposals have been dubbed a developer’s charter and further shift the power balance away from communities and towards developers.”
Local government secretary Robert Jenrick’s plans, announced with the release of a White Paper on Thursday, produced wildly different takes from rival local politicians in Camden.
The Conservative opposition insist the changes will not reduce the amount of affordable housing on sites, but instead ensure that work on building the homes begins more quickly.
The changes will stop councils from refusing planning permission for projects in designated growth areas. Local authorities will be told to push through schemes in “renewal” areas too.
Critics say that this will mean poor quality housing will be driven through. Developers will also be able to build schemes without any affordable housing element if they are building less than 50 homes.
In the past, this threshold was 10. And the Section 106 system, where commitments to community benefits is facing a complete revamp.
Cllr Beales said: “Ending Section 106 agreement strips communities of the power to require things like carbon offset, transport improvements, local employment measures and more.”
He added: “The new blunt ‘infrastructure levy’ proposed is a flat rate charge, which if set nationally would not reflect costs in Camden. It is also to be charged at the end of developments, at occupation – how this will work is unclear at best.”
Opponents to the government’s plans reject the idea that the planning system is holding up building work, as around 90 per cent of applications get consent.
Cllr Beales added: “The White Paper has united the RIBA architects association, local government, academics, and environmental and housing charities. “All are worried at how these plans remove the voice of the community, undermine affordable housing during a housing crisis and lead to ill-thought-out and poor quality developments.”
No, these ‘sweetheart’ deals with developers are over
TORIES in Camden are right behind the proposed planning system changes, insisting that it will stop out-of-sight development deals.
With the council facing questions in recent weeks over how often it agrees to “payment in lieu” (PIL) offers from developers looking to cancel their affordable housing requirements, the opposition group said Robert Jenrick’s changes would lead to a more transparent system.
Camden has also been asked about its ability to make sure Section 106 agreements are met by developers and to pursue overage payments.
“The government is ending Camden’s ability to strike sweetheart deals that let developers off their obligations”, said Conservative leader Councillor Oliver Cooper.
“The replacement of Section 106 agreements that councils negotiate with developers behind closed doors with a transparent, publicly-visible levy that yields more money for affordable housing than the current system is great news for our borough. From now on, housing can’t be haggled away.”
Conservative leader Oliver Cooper
Camden’s planning committee recently refused to allow developers converting Belsize fire station into a new private housing complex from removing two social rent homes from the project with a PIL.
But dozens of other schemes have seen payments accepted in return for ditching elements of affordable housing.
“Trust in the planning system is shattered by councils like Camden using endless secret negotiations with developers after permission is granted to chop, change and chip away at affordable housing that communities thought they’d secured,” said Cllr Cooper. “The proposal gives more protection to places with Neighbourhood Fora, like the 12 in Camden, to allow communities to set design standards instead of letting councils and developers foist alien designs on them.”
The government’s changes are aimed at “getting Britain building” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) confirmation that the UK had fallen into recession.
Construction companies had already been given the chance to use “catch-up” measures after lockdown, which has seen working hours on sites extended to six days a week and a new later cut-off time of 9pm on weekdays .
More types of work meanwhile are falling under Permitted Designated Rights, which removes the need to obtain full planning consent.
A twelve-week consultation survey is now under way over the proposals contaied in the White Paper – which is entitled Planning For The Future.