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Housing: New Developments

Volume 812: debated on Thursday 17 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how their proposed changes to the planning process will ensure that the public is supportive of new housing developments.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

We know that the planning system has a poor record of community engagement and can often be adversarial. That is why our reforms have effective engagement at their heart. By ensuring that communities are meaningfully involved in preparing plans and local design codes, they can have real influence over the location and design of development. This will be supported by digital transformation, with new tools to make planning more transparent, accessible and engaging.

I thank the Minister for what he said, but could he explain how involving the public only every five years when a plan is drawn up, alongside so many sites under the new reforms having automatic permission in principle, will restore trust and confidence in the system? As a former council leader, how does he think this will work in reality years later, when work actually begins?

My Lords, it is not just involvement in the local plan that happens every five years but producing the design codes. But, importantly, communities will have a say in detailed aspects of planning applications.

My Lords, I declare an interest as an honorary fellow of the RIBA. People, if consulted, often prefer smaller and lower-rise developments. What steps will Her Majesty’s Government take to promote such developments and secure public approval of ecological measures to reduce carbon emissions from them?

My Lords, the drive for development does need to take into account the need for sustainable development. Planning will take on board a zonal approach, with some of the positives of the existing system, and will divide areas into growth areas, renewal areas and protected areas.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that neighbourhood planning has been very successful in involving communities, delivering approximately 18,000 more houses than were contained in local plans. So can he confirm that neighbourhood planning will remain after the Government’s planning reforms are introduced and that they will remain a material consideration when decisions are made?

My Lords, I do not want to presuppose what will be in our response to the planning White Paper, but I recognise the important contribution that neighbourhood plans provide to delivering homes.

How are the Government intending to ensure that there is full community involvement in planning and a strong focus not just on housing numbers and speed of delivery but on developing sustainable communities, with a much wider remit?

My noble friend is right that we should focus on sustainable communities, not just the drive for volume and more housing. It is important to strike a balance between enabling vital development, including building the homes we need more quickly, and continuing to protect and enhance the natural and built environment.

My Lords, the Town and Country Planning Association has raised concerns that bypassing meaningful input from local bodies, councillors and the public, and delivering homes through permitted development rights, undermines public support for new housing. Does the Minister agree that, by continuing to expand the delivery of homes through PDR, the Government are undermining their own stated goal of making the planning process more democratic?

My Lords, I point out that permitted development rights have enabled us to deliver a net additional 72,000 homes in the last five years and make an important contribution to the planning system. Our planning reforms are all designed to get effective community engagement at the front end of the process.

The expansion of permitted development rights is taking away the voices of local communities in the planning process and handing them to Whitehall’s appointed boards of developers. Are the Government consulting local government representatives about these changes? If so, what representations have they received?

My Lords, at this stage of the planning reform process we have had 44,000 responses and have continued engagement with the Local Government Association and other important stakeholders, and we will be responding to those responses in due course.

My Lords, the city of Freiburg is widely recognised as a global first-rank model of urban sustainable life, based on strong and active democracy and citizen participation. Is it not time that councils in this country were given the real powers they need to redress the balance between overpowerful developers and democratic institutions?

My Lords, we need to recognise the existing frailties of the current planning system, which has not been reformed for over seven decades and has a very poor record on public engagement. Data shows that less than 1% engage on local planning consultations and only 3% engage on applications. That is something that we intend to improve with the reforms that we have outlined in the White Paper.

My Lords, there is a real risk that the proposed changes to the planning process could mean that fewer accessible homes are built for older and disabled people. Research from the housing association Habinteg reveals that more than half of all local plans make no requirements for new homes to meet any accessible housing standard. Fewer accessible houses are being planned now compared with 2019. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to ensure that more homes are built to accessible and adaptable standards?

My Lords, we continue to set standards around accessibility and recognise that it plays an important part in getting the right number of new homes. We have set out an approach that allows more public engagement, so that local communities can shape the places that they live in.

My Lords, do the Government recognise the importance of place-making when it comes to building homes; that we are making communities for people to live in, not just houses; and that, in particular, living in the places we make should not be dependent on using a motor car?

My noble friend is right that it is important not just to have volume as the driver but to think about the quality of the housing. Indeed, our reforms enable there to be model design codes. We have a draft national model design code that shows how to engage the community in creating places that reflect local views and allow people to shape the places they live in.

My Lords, what local people object to is large numbers of houses being dumped in their back yard to fulfil the Government’s flawed housing targets, because they know that they are based on out-of-date 2014 assumptions and dodgy algorithms that focus housing in areas where houses are least affordable. The Minister has already had a biffing on this from his Home Counties colleagues. Will the Government revisit the housing target calculation and will the Minister comment on why annual planning permissions for houses have more than doubled in the last 10 years, yet house prices have not come down and, indeed, houses have not been built?

My Lords, we have already looked at the approach to assessing local housing need to ensure that we see greater focus on the renewal of our cities and towns rather than urban sprawl. So we have already taken that point on board.

Does my noble friend agree that the public would be more supportive of the proposals to build the hundreds of thousands of new homes that the country needs if more of these homes were clearly being targeted at families on average incomes, with children, already living in the area and at key workers such as nurses and teachers, with perhaps less emphasis on unaffordable homes for newcomers?

My noble friend is absolutely right that we need homes of all types and tenures. Our reforms will give communities a greater voice from the start of the planning process. The reforms will make planning more straightforward and accessible and make it easier for people to influence local plans and have a say on locations, standards and types of development. The Government are of course committed to home ownership; the First Homes scheme allows a discount of up to 30% of full market value and, of course, there is the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme that will allow for the decent family homes that my noble friend sees as so critical.