With their 2020 counterparts postponed a year due to the COVID crisis, the 2021 local elections have become an unexpected bumper edition of the UK’s usual annual democratic process. With many areas of the UK going to the polls, the elections are important in determining who is running Scotland, Wales, and many cities and council areas across England, and as a major snapshot of the mood of the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the way in which planning decisions are being made in a matter of weeks. Nominally the advent of virtual planning committees and increased use of delegated decision making by officers are short-term measures. But could we see changes becoming imbedded for the longer-term?
As road transportation shifted from horses to the internal combustion engine even great minds of the time struggled to adapt. In 1899, inventor Uriah Smith came up with Horsey Horseless (pictured left). Smith thought the logical step was in seamlessly blending the benefits of a motorised vehicle with the traditional appearance of a horse. There was some fear at the time that the rise of the car would cause anxiety to beasts of burden using the same roads and this ingenious idea was designed to literally avoid ‘scaring the horses’.
Unsurprisingly it never took off, but it demonstrates what a hard-to-conceptualize thing a horseless carriage was.
How is the planning process staying on track during COVID-19?
In these unprecedented times, the Government has set councils the challenge of keeping the planning system going, acknowledging the role the development industry will play in the economic recovery. Central to this is ensuring that pre-app meetings continue to go ahead and decisions continue to be made.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick today issued a brutal rejection of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s London Plan, the proposed framework for development in the capital.
Much like a teacher chastising an under-achieving student, Jenrick has declared that housing delivery under Khan’s mayoralty has been “deeply disappointing” and “falls far short of what the people of London expect, deserve and need.” He goes on to blame this failure of housing delivery for “worsening affordability for Londoners”.
Key points behind the Housing Secretary’s rejection of the Plan:
• It delivers only 52,000 homes a year against the identified need of 66,000 homes.
• It is too complex and will reduce appetite for development.
• It directly contradicts national planning policies.
The tone of the letter really is remarkable in the scorn Jenrick shows. The best example is perhaps his citing of a policy on bed linen to evidence the complexity of the Plan, which Jenrick says will “make development more difficult”. He also criticises the Mayor’s flagship estate regeneration reform- the requirement of a residents’ ballot to secure grant-funding- describing it as “onerous”.
The timing of Jenrick’s letter was no doubt very deliberate. With the Mayoral election just around the corner, the Housing Secretary is robustly challenging a key plank of Khan’s re-election campaign- that the election should be a referendum on rent controls and making housing costs more affordable for Londoners. Jenrick is effectively saying to Khan that he is responsible for the affordability crisis through his failure to deliver homes.
Ironically though, given the COVID-19 crisis and the potential for the elections to be postponed until later in the year the timing may have been scuppered.
Jenrick’s conclusion is that the London Plan is not fit to be published and his direction to the Mayor is to go back to the drawing board. The Government’s view is that the Mayor has failed on housing delivery and will continue to do so with this plan- and that message has been delivered with absolutely no subtlety at all…
Since the Conservatives secured their majority in December 2019, the Government have consistently trailed that increasing the number of homes across the country and boosting housing supply is a key priority.
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick today set out plans to reform the planning system to speed up development, encourage homes to be built more quickly and to facilitate greater involvement of communities who are affected by planning decisions. This builds on some of the announcements by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak in the Budget on 11 March, which included investment in affordable housing and development of brownfield sites.
How planning reform will likely happen will be set out in the Planning White Paper, which Jenrick says will come in ‘the Spring’. But the Government has revealed some of the measures to be included, indicating a clear priority is to make the planning system quicker and more efficient. It was announced that the White Paper will include reform of planning fees to increase the capacity and resources of local authorities to review and grant permissions to avoid delay – frequent point of frustration for developers.
Jenrick also announced measures to allow for automatic rebates of planning fees where applications are successful at appeal. This would place greater pressure on Planning Committees across the country to be far more considered about those schemes that they dislike or are unpopular but that are largely policy compliant.
The Government has also indicated that they want to see a step change in the production and adoption of Local Plans. They have set a deadline for all councils to have adopted their Local Plan by 2023, with Government intervention if they fail to do so – exactly how remains unsaid.
Other notable measures announced by the Secretary of State today include:
• Developers encouraged to build upwards and above stations.
• Proposals being considered to turn disused buildings into homes more quickly.
• Ensure that land for housing is actually delivered through greater transparency on land ownership.
• Expand the use of zoning tools to support local areas to simplify the process of granting planning permission for residential and commercial development.
• New map of brownfield sites to make the most of unused land.
• Improve the effectiveness and role of Compulsory Purchase Orders.
At no point did Jenrick mention of the Green Belt in his statement.
We will have to wait for the White Paper for further details and measures to be taken. The Government has been consistently keen to present their plans for reform of the planning system as radical, and certainly some of what has been trailed gives the sense that they are serious. The White Paper will confirm if the detail will live up to this.
The Women and Work APPG is proud to announce that in 2020 our theme will be women’s wellbeing in the workplace. Traditionally, wellbeing in the workplace has been concerned with the physical and psychological health of employees.
This is the election where anything could happen. The Conservative Party has a strong poll lead and are favourites at the bookies, but as we know from past experience, there is a long way to go. Election debates, battle buses, controversies and wall to wall media coverage stand between us and our next government. Remember Theresa May’s disastrous manifesto launch which saw her commanding lead melt away in 2017? There are key moments in every election. In 2015, Ed Miliband lost his battle with a bacon sandwich and with it, his battle for Number 10. In 2010, the “I agree with Nick” debates were a breakthrough for the Lib Dems. Those with longer memories may remember John Prescott’s punch in 2001, or even Jennifer’s ear in 1992. There are 37 days to go. Expect the unexpected.