A blog about planning, planning law and planning policy


The information on this blog is not intended to be advice, legal or otherwise. You should not rely on it and I do not accept liability in connection with it. If you do have a planning law question on which you would like advice, seek legal advice from a suitably qualified solicitor. Specific advice should be sought for specific problems.

Housing and growth

Last week saw another step in the Government’s campaign to secure growth by changes to the planning system.  My colleague Martin Goodall has posted an excellent summary and comment in his blog, see the link at the end of this post.

The announcement is in a ministerial statement. It covers increasing investment in the private rented housing sector, affordable housing guarantees (for borrowing to build), helping first time buyers, accelerating large housing schemes, getting public sector land used, reducing planning delays, cutting red tape, supporting locally led development, helping homeowners to improve their homes and getting empty offices into use.  That’s a positive size list – 10 items – and I do not intend to comment on all of them.  But before I look at the planning issues, I do want to make one economic comment.

I have no training as an economist, but I do understand the law of supply and demand.  The more demand, the more the price rises.The more the supply, the price drops.  So in the light of that, what is the logic of supporting first time buyers with cheaper money?  It is true that the gap between what first time buyers can borrow and the price of housing is great, but will the prices not remain high if the first time buyer has access to more funds?  If we want to enable more first time buyers to get into the market, which by all accounts is slow at the moment, sellers need to be more realistic and/or we need to increase the supply of new houses.  Comments please.

OK – now I will returnt to something in which I do have some expertise. Mr Pickles says that he will reduce planning delays and one way will be to allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate. He says:

“Given the importance of efficient and effective planning decisions for the economy, we need to ensure that where there are clear failures in performance, that applicants are able to access a better service. We propose to legislate to allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate, if the local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions.”.  But the Inspectorate can already do this. It is open to any applicant to appeal non-determination.  The Secretary of State can achieve the same result by calling in an application.  (Yes I realise that leads to a decision by the SofS but it’s following a recommendation by an Inspector, and anyway the object is to speed things up.)  Or the Government could encourage applicants to twin-track their applications, the way we did in the 1980s.  (Of course twin-tracking has become mighty difficult these days and is practically a non-PC expression; I’d have to look it up, but I think it still can be done.)  These are the sort of things which can be done straight away, without the need for new legislation.  There is one thing however which would benefit from new legislation.  Where an application is subject to appeal or call-in, and needs a s.106 agreement, that has to be negotiated with the local planning authority. And that can negate some of the speediness.  It can also give an opportunity for the LPA (to put it bluntly) to be awkward.  Given that councillors and the electorate are expecting things to be localist, that is a real possibility. So if there is to be legislation, I suggest it includes the power for the Secretary of State to enter into a s.106 agreement.  I suggest that thereafter the enforcement of the agreement should be in the hands of the LPA.  Of course, the Sof S will have to devote some resources to negotiating the s.106, but that would be a test of his willingness really to speed things up.

In the interests of good and digestible blogging I am going to close this post here.  I will continue in a new post with some further comments.

Meanwhile, here is a picture of a Secretary of State, and here is the link to Martin’s article.

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