Anne Marie's Weekly Column: Planning for the future

As I have said in previous columns, our communities wouldn’t be what they are without the people who live in them. This is why it is crucial that we are able to provide housing that meets and suits the needs of residents through a process that doesn’t leave them feeling disenfranchised. Housing needs to add value to the community. Developments need to be appropriate for the communities in which they are being placed and local authorities need to have the ability to designate what types of housing are being built, in order to ensure that the housing needs of the local community are met.

The new Planning for the Future White Paper consultation is admirable in scope, and there are certainly a range of measures contained within it and much of it is positive. However, as with any consultation it is absolutely correct that individuals, businesses and other local organisations are able to have a proper say on what they believe are the positives and negatives of these proposals and whether they should go ahead.

My biggest concern is the potential diminishing of local accountability when it comes to new developments. The Government believes that the proposed measures will mean that local communities will be “in the driving seat deciding what is built and where”. However, under the proposed new zonal system, land in renewal and growth areas would be subject to, respectively, an automatic permission in principle or presumption in favour of development. This would seemingly favour the developer and landowner, rather than the local community.

Over the last decade I have repeatedly called for and led debates in the House on the need for a ‘Community Right of Appeal’. Despite what some people might say, this isn’t about ‘nimbyism’ but rather building and maintaining sustainable communities. This would enable communities to appeal a development when there was a genuine and legitimate reason to do so.

A clear barrier to creating more affordable homes for our communities is the use and abuse of viability assessments which can enable developers to reduce the amount of social housing they have to build and also affect the quality and size of new homes, transport and general infrastructure. Any changes to the planning system need to provide local authorities with powers that enable them to hold the developers to account and ensure that they aren’t deliberately avoiding social housing provision or infrastructure in order to bolster their profit margins.

Developers must put substantially more into infrastructure and social housing, not just affordable housing (which often isn’t affordable). The money and the infrastructure must be paid and delivered up front. The quality of build must be key and this is absolutely not a time for post-war housing thrown up for the short term but now here to stay.

Often, constituents ask why solar panels are not mandated nowadays on new developments. At the very least, not to mandate them on industrial developments certainly seems to me to be madness. Therefore, I welcome the environmental provisions in this white paper to ensure that all new developments will be ‘zero carbon ready’ with the potential to ensure that our houses become fully zero carbon as the national grid decarbonises in the future.

Fundamentally, if this White Paper were to achieve one thing, it would be to ensure that developers are held to account and produce the right types of housing that suits the needs of the communities in which they are being built. It is of course vital that developers as businesses are able to make money from the time and investment they put into building new houses. However, the cost to the community shouldn’t have to be putting up with identikit executive houses that are financially out of reach for many.

This White Paper has the potential to be ground-breaking when it comes to future development, but it must ensure that there is accountability to and a voice for the local community and I will continue to lobby for this.