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Nationalisation of the planning system has failed

JohnmossCllr John Moss says developers and communities should negotiate directly - planning officers get in the way

A return to respect for private property rights in the Planning system might satisfy developers and objectors alike.

Here’s a thing. Your local Council grant planning consent for a development which immediately adjoins your property. You objected, because you didn’t think the developer was taking your concerns seriously, but the Planning Committee weighed the evidence and granted consent anyway. You get no compensation. The buildings are built and you feel like your home has been violated.

Sound familiar? I’m sure councillors get stories like this all the time. I’ve had cases where extensions were built under Permitted Development which blocked the only direct sunlight somebody got on to their patio and seen a consent granted based on incorrect plans, which were never checked on site by the planning officer. Legislation exempts councils from any claim for compensation in such circumstances and as consent exists, homeowners can do nothing but suffer the consequences.

Before Attlee’s Labour Government nationalised planning in 1948, people could and did negotiate directly with their neighbours to agree development. Often, financial compensation was involved. It was a cost of the development, just like buying land or paying a builder, or today, paying a Community Infrastructure Levy or paying for work required under a Section 106 Agreement.

Before the “Planning” took over, we built all the homes we needed. We built street upon street of terraced houses in the Victorian era. Between the wars, London enjoyed its fastest expansion in to the suburbs with investment from pension funds in housing for sale and to rent. Whole new suburbs were built and there was very little by way of protest and objection. Could that be because landowners and neighbours were compensated for giving up their “property rights” in return for allowing development to happen.

Since “Planning” took over, we have seen a shift to the building of “estates” of hideous high-rises – many long since demolished and gone in a shocking waste of natural resources and taxpayers’ cash. We have seen a slow-down in the rate of house-building relative to population growth sufficient to create three major house price booms – and their inevitably following busts. We have seen an explosion of the cost of housing welfare, be that through the rise in Housing Benefit to both working and non-working households, or in the cost of providing “affordable housing” – only needed because house price inflation has made housing “unaffordable”.

Here’s an idea. Just as a pilot, perhaps in a few local authorities where there is a demand for homes, but some tension between communities and developers, grant consent automatically for projects of less than 1,000sqM of buildings – enough for about ten houses - where you have the positive consent of any neighbour within 50m of your boundaries. You’d still have to pay the CIL and enter in to the S106 Agreements, but if your neighbours were happy, why should you need any other “consent”?

Even if the developer secured that consent in return for a cash payment, what’s the problem? Developers have to pay councils through CILs and S106s now and neighbours see little if any of the benefits. Direct cash compensation for allowing development, negotiated directly between developer and neighbour is far more likely to secure agreement and leave people feeling they had a real say.

If the developer couldn’t secure agreement, then there would still be the “normal” planning application route. Of course, neighbours would get nothing from that if consent was granted, but that is at least an informed choice they could make.


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