Britain was pulled from the slump of the early 1930s by a housebuilding boom that gave us many of the semi-detached suburbs that are so sought after today. Now, in contrast, it is very difficult for new homes to receive planning permission. While new development undoubtedly will have some negative consequences, it also brings benefits, although the current planning system fails to recognise this, pandering solely to those who have objections, rather than considering how other people will gain. What are the benefits of relaxing planning regulations? I have listed some here:
– Rises in living standards resulting from improvements to the quality of the country's housing stock;
– Reduced costs of living resulting from reductions in commercial and residential rents;
– Freeing businesses from needless contraints on their activities by simplifying land use categories;
– Reductions in the local government resources devoted to land use issues, reducing the amount of money spent by local government;
– Promoting long term economic growth by removing barriers faced by infrastructure projects of national significance.
– Creating jobs and business opportunities in the construction sector, and related trades such as consumer durables;
How would this work in detail?
I propose that the current system should be replaced by a more streamlined tribunal approach working on a "polluter pays" model.
First, however, we should ensure those parts of Britain that genuinely deserve to be preserved continue to be subject tight planning controls. This would cover, for example, areas of outstanding natural beauty (e.g. North Downs, Cotswolds, Chilterns) and historic or noteworthy urban districts. Also, a wider range of buildings might be considered for listing. Second, in order to ensure new construction was of a high standard, I would like to see building standards being bolstered. This might mean, for example, reintroducing the Parker Morris standards for new homes (which regulate minimum room sizes) and introducing new standards for building on flood plains similar to those used in the Netherlands.
Having tightened controls over those parts of Britain most deserving of protection, I believe a tribunal process can ensure compensation is awarded to those with valid claims to have suffered damages as the result of the development. So someone losing light as the result of a neighbour's extension could be awarded a sum of money by the tribunal. In most cases, this would be settled "out of court", preventing the need for the tribunal to be used. These compensation sums would be "built-in" to the price of the development, and be part of the developer's decision whether to proceed. I suggest compensation might be awarded for noise, disruption, or loss of light, but not for aesthetic matters. With this in place, the market would be free to determine Britain's land use patterns, while ensuring those who were genuinely affected by a development were appropriately compensated.
To make this work, proposed land use changes and new development would be reported to the planning authorities. There would be some limited circumstances where permission could be denied by the council – for example, nightclubs, abatoirs, chemical plants. (I propose that existing land use categories are simplified into two categories: one would contain potentially disruptive, unpleasant, or dangerous activities and the other would contain everything else (e.g. houses, shops, offices, hospitals, libraries, etc.). It would no longer be necessary to seek permission to change use within the second category.)
Where development was proposed on greenfield land that the planning authority considered worthy of protection, the local council would be able to offer to take it into public ownership as common land, with the tribunal setting the level of compensation that would be offered to the landowner. Savings elsewhere could be put towards a fund for this purpose.
This proposal may be a bit rich for many tastes: a more digestable proposal might be to allow a development free-for-all in, for example, the eastern halves of Britain's big cities, which are invariably crying out for private investment in the built-environment, and where developers should be welcomed, not forced to kow-tow to planners and their precious local plans.
Why is this idea important?
I believe Britain's overly-restrictive planning system places large burdens on society, and places unnecessary constraints on the economy. As a result, it damages the prosperity of many people, and disproportionately compromises the interests of the poor. I list some specific examples here:
– A lack of new homes, coupled with a growing population, has led to a houseprice inflation that has put the prospect of home-ownership out of reach for many people.
– Britain has higher commercial rents than other European countries; this feeds through to higher prices for goods and services.
– Infrastructure projects important to our future prosperity (like road, rail, power stations) are delayed by planning inquiries
– Efforts to protect "greenbelt" land lead to development being concentrated onto "brownfield" sites that include school playing fields and large gardens. The consequence is development on true amenity land. The greenbelt, in contrast, offers little amenity benefits, unless you are fond of golf or horses.