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Is Boris Johnson planning for his mates?

That’s the question posed by Hastings & Rye Liberal Democrats in response to news that the Conservative government is holding a consultation prior to putting new legislation through the House of Commons in respect of town-planning.

It is becoming increasingly clear that with this Conservative Government it is important to scrutinise both motivation and detail. We have seen, earlier in the year, [Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government] Robert Jenrick’s incredible intervention in the planning process for a Tory donor, after which he (like Dominic Cummings in Barnard Castle) has accepted no culpability.

Need we mention bogus contracts for face masks and expensive track and trace systems? Given all this, it is highly likely that these new moves may have hidden implications, and our instinct is to be sceptical.

We have sympathy with Tim Farron MP – our national lead – when he says that ‘’Rather than tinkering with planning laws, what Robert Jenrick should be doing is unveiling a huge housebuilding programme of environmentally friendly social homes for rent.”

We don’t immediately see how the proposed legislation will help us to achieve this in Hastings Borough.

A housing number as our contribution to an overall 300,000 per annum will now be dictated nationally. We already have lots of sites which are not being built, including land owned by the Borough Council, the County Council and the Ministry of Defence. The replacement of s106 obligations on planning applications with an overall Infrastructure Levy (which Hastings doesn’t use at the moment) based on nationally set rates will not change things, since developers will still be able to argue that a Levy makes development unviable.

And we note that the guidance does not refer at all to AirBnB-related empty homes, the increasing numbers of which are a becoming a significant issue for seaside towns like ours.

Possible benefits

We do see possible benefits from the proposed new Protected Areas and tougher enforcement of flood zones. We have been in the forefront of arguments against developers building on flood plain in West St Leonards, of which the Lead member for Housing at HBC is well aware.

Perhaps there will be the opportunity to expand neighbourhood planning as a way of retaining some level of local control. And the emphasis on digitisation may assist the Council to develop its capability in respect of transparency. After all, the Leader of the Council, in her response to Nick Perry’s recent open letter, has assured us that this is what she wants to do.

We are aware that there is a lot of talk about simplifying processes and removing ‘unnecessary’ regulations, but very little detail on how that will actually be achieved. Planning law is currently a set of unnecessarily complicated layers which require forensic legal skills to navigate. Even experienced council officers get it wrong. Our view is that the proposals in the document will increase this complexity.

We are very much in favour of good design and good materials being a requirement for new social housing, but there is alarming stuff about something called ‘fast track for beauty’, including a new design quango, and new Whitehall-written design codes to help spread beauty about (which puts us in mind of Albert Speer just a bit too much).

Other than corrupt motivations, our over-arching concern is how the transition from the existing to the new Local Plans will be managed. In the immediate term, should Hastings continue with its current local plan review? Who knows? Certainly Robert Jenrick won’t.

 

Posted 18:41 Tuesday, Aug 25, 2020 In: Local Government

2 Comments

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  1. Bolshie

    I think DAR has made an overall accurate assessment of it. For starters, you only have troll around some of these new (ish) developments and look at the questionable quality of them.
    Also with some sites how they ever got planning permission in the first place. All this long before the relaxing of planning regulations. As mentioned in the comment “Undercliff.” There is a classic example of an absurdity in planning permissions and that goes back 16 years. Now abandoned, unfinished and a site HBC would not put a Compulsory Purchase Order on.
    As that song goes…….”I see Trouble Ahead….Let’s face the Music and Dance.”

    Comment by Bolshie — Wednesday, Sep 2, 2020 @ 09:13

  2. DAR

    The answer to the headline is “yes”. Developers look for maximum profit for minimum outlay. The proposed new planning rules are likely to enhance the former and diminish the latter…and lead to idiotic decisions (e.g. see Undercliff) in a rush to achieve house-building targets set by central government. Infrastructure and “green” concerns will be the last to be considered, I reckon.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Aug 27, 2020 @ 14:19

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