Planning Bill will undermine building of genuinely affordable housing, say councillors

Councils need to be given powers to get building homes not seen on a scale since the 1970s, councillors have said.

The call comes in wake of controversial new planning systems. The Planning Bill is anticipated to create a simpler and faster planning system based around new design codes which will require councils to zone land for ‘growth’, ‘protection’ or ‘renewal’.

‘Growth’ areas will get automatic outline planning permission. Councils will be unable to reject applications which satisfy local rules and plans.

But the plans have been met with deep concern – not least because of the doubt that the new regime will lead to any increase in affordable housing.

Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said: “We are concerned this is a developer free for all and that it will remove the rights of local residents to be involved in the planning process.”

He added that the new rules will also undermine the building of genuinely affordable housing.

Cllr Robinson continued: “The Conservatives’ plans for equity share and things like that just drives the prices of houses up – it doesn’t provide more houses because it doesn’t increase the supply, it just increases the demand for houses.

“The bottom line is the Government needs to allow and facilitate councils to build more houses. Unless that is unable to happen we will never provide enough houses to meet the needs of our young people and families who are struggling to get on the housing ladder.”

This is also echoed by the Local Government Association (LGA).

Councillor David Renard,  a spokesman for the LGA, added: “To tackle the housing crisis, reduce homelessness and meet the Government’s target of building 300,000 new homes a year, councils also need to be given the powers to get building homes not seen on a scale since the 1970s when they built over 40 per cent of new housing.

“This is backed by Parliamentarians with eight in 10 MPs (80 per cent) we surveyed saying councils should have more financial freedoms and powers to build homes in their area.”

Rosie Pearson, a planning campaigner, agrees that the plans will do, what she says, is “nothing for true affordable need” while also cutting many people out of the planning application stage.

“It is a tragedy cutting people out of being able to talk about what happens in their community,” she said.

“What it means is you’ll have to have a rock solid local plan and in that the development zones councils will have to have policies which the developer applies and then builds. It is going to be really hard to get a local plan that ensures they build the right thing.”

Ms Pearson added: “The Government is not doing anything that redirects housing anywhere. They talk about levelling up.

“It still going to be developers calling in the shots and building what they want.

“And the vast chunk of people who can’t afford a market home won’t be able to afford a market home.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter