President's Piece March 2015
Being Society President for a year is a real honour and brings with it some very interesting meetings with Government Ministers and Officials. Last week was no exception.
On Monday morning I was invited to attend No.10 for an hour and a half meeting with Gareth Bradford, the Prime Ministers Policy Advisor on Planning, Homes and Local Government. We had a wide ranging discussion over the effects of the budget reductions on local government and particularly on planning services (the most affected area according to the National Audit Office), the benefits and challenges of partnering for smaller councils as a way of addressing budget reductions and how best to improve the planning system. Whilst it was clear that no changes are likely until after the election in May, this is the time to promote our proposals to influence the post-election Government's programme of business. The ideas in our manifesto were received with interest. Incidentally this was my first visit to No. 10 and it was a real experience walking through that famous front door. I have been invited back for a further meeting!
In the afternoon I received an invitation to attend a Neighbourhood Planning summit with Brandon Lewis, Stephen Williams and Oliver Letwin. This too was most interesting. Some 1,400 neighbourhood plan areas have now been designated covering around six million people. 54 Plans have been adopted following successful referendums which had an average 33% turnout and 88% of those voting in favour. The Government's belief, best articulated by Oliver Letwin, is that local communities are likely to object most to top down imposition of new development. But when they feel that they have real influence in the process and help decide where development goes and what it looks like they are more likely to support development in their communities. This seems a good approach to me but I am yet to see a neighbourhood plan which proposed large scale development (say over 5,000 homes) in an area. But it is true that public attitudes to new development appear to be changing. As we heard at the Forum in December the public's attitude to new homes isn't as negative as many politicians think and as the just published research on Public Attitudes to Housebuilding (DCLG, 11th March 2014) shows, the strength of opposition to new house building has fallen dramatically. In 2010 46 per cent of respondents said they would oppose new homes being built in their local area and by 2014 this had fallen to only 21 per cent.
After the meeting I had a useful discussion with Brandon Lewis about the issue raised by a number of those present where appeals have been allowed in the absence of an adopted local plan but where plan preparation is well advanced. This is one of the major problems with the current system whereby significant weight is only accorded right at the end of the process. We discussed weight being given at plan submission stage and significant weight at the end of the Examination Hearing. We will pursue this suggestion with the Minister.
On Friday I had a further opportunity to discuss these matters when I met Oliver Letwin (Minister for Policy in the Cabinet Office). We discussed our two stage approach to the Local Plan system, the first stage of which would be a simple Housing Market Area (or larger) strategic plan which all LPAs would co-operate in preparing. This would set out the SHMA area Objective Assessment of Need, its distribution between authorities and the strategic infrastructure required. Carrots (say a one off grant or infrastructure funding) and sticks (possibly holding back new homes bonus or business rates retention) might be necessary to encourage all to participate. When completed this would then give all participating councils a tick in the Duty to Cooperate box and there would be greater flexibility over the stage two plans.
There is no doubt that there is significant interest in the Society's manifesto proposal and some useful feedback on how we might develop our ideas in the run up to the election. Planning is very likely to be on the agenda for the incoming Government and we need to be ready with well thought through practical proposals to ensure planning delivers the sustainable homes and jobs the country needs.
I look forward to seeing many of you at our joint POS/British Property Federation Conference on the morning of 18th March. We have some great speakers lined up and it promises to be a most interesting morning. Details are on the POS website .
Finally, don't forget the annual two day POS Spring Conference which will this year be held in Dorchester on 18th and 19th June. Again a good line up of speakers is planned and a chance to consider the direction for planning post-election. Do get the dates into your diaries.
David Evans President 2014/15