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Housing & Planning Bill: RTPI Briefing for the House of Lords

22 January 2016

Housing Bill BannerThe Royal Town Planning Institute

1.         The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has over 23,000 members who work in the public private and voluntary sector. We develop and shape policy affecting the built environment, works to raise professional standards and supports members through continuous education, practice, training and development. We have provided earlier briefings on the Bill.

Resourcing

2.         The Bill places extra duties on local authorities which are already struggling to meet the requirements for handling planning applications and writing local plans. The RTPI has recently surveyed the state of local authority planning activity across the councils of the North West and found there have been significant reductions in local planning authority budgets and staffing since 2010.  These reductions are impacting on delivery and development.

Permission in Principle (PiP) and Brownfield Register (Clauses 136 & 137)

3.       We have drafted an amendment on PiP.

4.       As regards the sites which are progressed through the Register, there is considerable leeway in deciding whether a site is required to be on the Register, although promoters can request inclusion. A key issue in enabling proper planning of the country is that sites should, when developed, be supported by infrastructure, with good access by public transport and to a range of places of employment. This is so critical that the RTPI believes it should be specified as a criterion. Many brownfield sites are so poorly located that their development would generate high volumes of car traffic and long commutes.

Our solution would be if the government believes fee flexibility is part of the answer to increasing the resources of planning departments then they should introduce pilots allowing local authorities to trial fee flexibility. The majority of applications currently do not cover the cost of dealing with them. Pilot status would be conditional on authorities reinvesting the additional resources in planning and authorities would need to demonstrate improved service, innovation and better outcomes. We believe that such a pilot could also be used to encourage collaboration across a City Region or LEP area.

Powers of the Secretary of State

5.         The Bill still confers significant new powers on the Secretary of State, which our amendments above have sought to address.  It is possible that some of the proposed new powers will in some areas subsequently be devolved, but in general the increase in the powers of Whitehall remains extraordinary. If people in localities are to be brought behind the concept of increased housing development, this seems a strange way to achieve this desired outcome.

6.         The immense discretion afforded the Secretary of State – not clarified during discussion of the Bill in committee - means that the impact of this Bill is very difficult to judge. Very large areas of policy are delegated to secondary legislation none of which is yet available to comment on. With no recourse to Parliament other than through negative resolution, the powers could be used to drive through much less local discretion over development than is currently mooted.

Starter Homes

7.         Starter homes are welcomed as an addition to the housing mix. Strategic assessments of housing need carried out on behalf of ‎local authorities in their areas consistently show a need for a range of housing size and tenure are required to meet that need. This will help support flourishing communities and economies. The planning system must not lose sight of meeting the housing needs of the whole nation. We urge ministers against undue government prescription to enable local planning authorities to negotiate to ensure both delivery on specific sites and a social mix of homes.

Affordable housing/ section 106

8.         Communities have agreed to housing developments in good faith on the understanding that a proportion of the homes would be affordable. These have been formalised in legal agreements. We urge the government to consider the legal implications in respect of affordable housing that has been provided under Section 106. These agreements should be honoured and excluded from the general provisions on right to buy under the Act.

'Alternative providers' clauses 145-148

9.         It is imperative that any significant changes to the planning system are evidence based and part of a proper evaluation process. As with the Bill’s other provisions, it is critical that the planning system is not made more complicated for applicants and communities, and that we do not increase the unresourced burdens on local authorities.

10.      A planning application is not simply a transaction between an applicant and a determining body. It is not only the applicant’s interests that need to be considered. Currently, local authority planning officers will take into account the communities they serve when making their recommendations to elected councillors. Any new approach would need to safeguard that responsibility.  We want any pilots to be voluntary, properly evaluated, and a level playing field on fee flexibility.  Conflicts of interest issues need to be resolved and local community interests properly protected. We will also need to look carefully, as the body responsible for professional standards in planning, at such issues as professional competence. Please also see our earlier briefing on this amendment.

Strategic assessments of housing need carried out on behalf of ‎local authorities in their areas consistently show a need for a range of housing size and tenure are required to meet that need. This will help support flourishing communities and economies. The planning system must not lose sight of meeting the housing needs of the whole nation. We urge ministers against undue government prescription to enable local planning authorities to negotiate to ensure both delivery on specific sites and a social mix of homes.

RTPI solution

11.       Our solution would be if the government believes fee flexibility is part of the answer to increasing the resources of planning departments then they should introduce pilots allowing local authorities to trial fee flexibility. The majority of applications currently do not cover the cost of dealing with them. Pilot status would be conditional on authorities reinvesting the additional resources in planning and authorities would need to demonstrate improved service, innovation and better outcomes. We believe that such a pilot could also be used to encourage collaboration across a City Region or LEP area.

12.       We will be consulting our members, who work across the public, private and voluntary sectors, when more detailed information on the provisions is available.

Contact the RTPI

13.       If you require more detailed information please contact the RTPI: Tino Hernandez, Head of Communications and Public Affairs

T.         020 7929 9486 M.     07711 593495 Tino.hernandez@rtpi.org.uk