Planning faces its ‘greatest challenge’ in restoring public confidence

Update of the Raynsford Review calls for radical rethink of planning reform, with the present system producing poor homes.


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A former housing minister has stressed the need for new direction to national planning policy – saying the current system faces its greatest challenge in restoring public confidence.

In an update to his landmark review, Nick Raynsford warned of opportunity undermined by deregulation and building the slums of the future.

“We ignore at our peril the anger and disaffection felt by so many communities at the failure of current planning policies and procedures to listen to their concerns and respond to their needs,” Raynsford said.

“Restoring public confidence in the planning system is one of our generation’s greatest challenges.”

The TCPA (Town and Council Planning Association) update recognises that, while the system has been producing large numbers of planning permissions for homes, the quality of these units can be “shockingly poor”.

This is not simply the likes of cramped flats without windows delivered through permitted development, but also large numbers of new homes in poorly designed estates which lack public transport and basic social facilities.

The  update concludes that, far from too much planning, the nation is suffering from deregulation and a lack of ambition, and calls for powerful public sector-led planning to reduce risk and transform the quality and affordability of new communities.

“A year ago we identified the real possibility of a new generation of slum housing produced through the deregulation of the planning system,” said Raynsford.

“That fear has become a reality, and our update report shows that over the past 12 months the situation has got worse not better.

“This follow-up report is an urgent wake-up call, highlighting what needs to be done to secure a planning system which creates great places, upholds decent standards, and promotes the public interest.”

The update urges the government to immediately restrict permitted development rights, which allow the conversion of commercial buildings to housing units without any proper safeguards on quality.

It also repeats the call for a new legal duty to focus the planning system on the health, safety, and wellbeing of communities.

Other “focussed priorities” for urgent attention by the new government include the need for long-term planning for climate change and to ensure the system helps tackle inequality by providing genuinely affordable and high-quality homes.

“We agree with the government that we need more homes, but if we are to tackle the housing, health, and climate crises we need changes to the planning system,” said TCPA chief executive Fiona Howie.

“If we want to see meaningful change in practice, and create places that enhance people’s lives, the government needs to take action.

“Under the current permitted development arrangements — which have already produced tens of thousands of housing units — vulnerable people are stripped of any right to light and space and children are having to play in active car parks.

“These new units are making no contribution to local services such as doctor’s surgeries, local schools or decent affordable homes,” she said.

Matt Thomson, head of land use and planning at CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), said the failure of the present planning system was not the only issue at stake since the review was published in Autumn 2018.

He said: “We have seen global governmental declarations of a climate emergency, including in the UK, and an increasing recognition of the impact of human activity on nature.

“Addressing these issues alongside the crisis in the quality, affordability, and distribution of housing requires a means to rationally balance competing demands on the use of land – something that can only realistically be achieved through a strong, evidence-based and democratically accountable planning system.”

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