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Housing Secretary defends sweeping planning reforms against ‘slum’ warning

UK News | Published:

Robert Jenrick denied that draft laws paved the way for low quality homes.

Building site in East Ardsley, West Yorkshire

The Housing Secretary has defended his sweeping reforms to the planning system against criticism that the move to speed up building will create slums and ignore local concerns.

Robert Jenrick dismissed allegations the draft laws for England unveiled on Thursday could create a new generation of low quality homes as “complete nonsense”.

And he insisted local people will be able to make “a meaningful contribution”, despite confirming there is nothing that can be done to halt disliked projects once an area is designated for growth.

Coronavirus – Sun Aug 02, 2020
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick is championing the reforms to the planning system (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Jenrick said the major overhaul of planning policy would protect green spaces while making it easier to build on brownfield sites despite Labour branding it a “developers’ charter”.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) said there was “every chance they could also lead to the creation of the next generation of slum housing”.

Mr Jenrick insisted “design and quality” is central to the Government plans and, when asked about Riba’s criticisms, he told Sky News: “That I’m afraid is complete nonsense.

“I saw those comments and they were put out before we’d even published the document.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his senior aide Dominic Cummings have both advocated reform to the system and the proposals in the Planning for the Future White Paper set out the Government’s vision.

The new process will involve quicker development on land which has been designated “for renewal”, with a “permission in principle” approach that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said will balance the need for proper checks with a speedier way of working.

The other two categories will see land designated for growth where new homes, hospitals and schools will be allowed automatically to empower development, while areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt will come under the protection category.

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The reforms have caused unease within Tory ranks, with fears that local concerns will be ignored in order to build more quickly.

The Local Government Association’s Conservative chairman James Jamieson said: “Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern.”

Cotswolds MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown – treasurer of the influential backbench 1922 Committee – said he too had concerns about a new generation of slums being an unintended consequence.

“We do need some reform, but as people who have tried this before have found, if you are not careful it does have knock-on effects,” he told the BBC.

“Whilst I’m all in favour of building more houses, they need to be good-quality houses, we have got to be really sure that we are not building slums of tomorrow by building today at low quality.”

Hugh Ellis, a director at the Town and Country Planning Association, said the greatest factor in building decent, socially-rented homes is about investment, not planning, and warned it is “really troubling” that “this is not a democratisation of planning”.

Currently, he said, critics of a building project “get two bites of the cherry, they can have an involvement in the plan, they can comment on planning applications”.

“Half that process is going to effectively disappear,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

But Mr Jenrick, who was quizzed over his approval of a Tory donor’s development, said the plan would increase local oversight, while confirming objections would be futile once an area was designated for growth.

“You won’t be able to do something then, but you wouldn’t be able to do very much today either,” he told Today, arguing current engagement with planning applications is low.

“What we’re asking for people is to have a meaningful contribution to the planning system and for that to happen early on when you actually produce the plan.”

Mr Jenrick has insisted “we will cut red tape, but not standards” as he says it currently takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years to get building.

It also aims to boost the share of houses built by small and medium-sized building firms, which built 40% of new homes 30 years ago but only 12% today.

The White Paper proposes that all new streets should be tree-lined and the MHCLG also says “all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2050, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted”.

Councils will also be forced to lay out a “local plan” of where new homes can be built, as only 50% have such schemes in place.

The reforms aim to reduce the number of planning cases that get overturned at appeal by creating a “clearer, rules-based system”.

A new national levy would replace the current system of developer contributions and “beautiful buildings” will be fast-tracked through the planning system.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “This is a developers’ charter frankly taking councils and communities out of it.

“And on affordable housing, which is the critical issue, it says nothing. In fact it removes the initiatives that were there for affordable housing.”

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