Written by Roger Arthur
Do you recall the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which was supposed to respect the aspirations of local community, empowering elected councillors to make planning decisions? If so, then you might ask, why we continued to see speculative housing development – often on green and flood-prone land with inadequate infrastructure – in the face of community resistance, with developers in the driving seat?
Well, the first clue is, ask who assesses the Local Authority (LA) housing targets and approves the District Plan? It is the unelected Planning Inspector (PI) who seems to be a law unto himself.
By way of example, the LA target for one district is being inflated from around 900 to 1200 pa, to include allocations for adjacent districts. That compares with around 400 built pa, before the Sub Prime Debt Crisis – when GDP averaged around 3% pa. So the target seems to bears little relation to economic trends.
Clearly, LAs cannot force developers to build, as demonstrated by the fact that over 1 million dwellings have approval, but are not being built. That is because big developers buy up land, get building permission and then sit on the land, in a similar process to that once used by monopolistic oil producers, to optimise the price of oil against demand volume.
Considering that the value per acre of agricultural land at a few £1,000 per acre, can rise to over £1,000,000 with planning approval, you will not be surprised at the incentive to developers, to hoover up land in advance of need.
When unrealistic housing targets are not met, the unelected Planning Inspectorate (PI) can approve speculative applications over the heads of elected councillors, reducing councillor’s influence over the outcome and the infrastructure provided.
This unreasonable process has seen developers continue to build larger more profitable dwellings, often for people leaving London, where around 4m of the current population were not born in the UK. Many of those leaving London are headed for the suburbs and beyond, where local FTBs have little chance of buying.
Indeed, the average house now costs more than 8 times average earnings, something which has only occurred twice before in the last 120 years, while developers have in many cases been allowed to deliver fewer affordable homes.
But since Local Plans were supposed to cater for local needs, MPs must surely see that the aspirations of local communities have been treated with contempt. The promise of Localism with elected councillors in control, has not been delivered, while infrastructure becomes increasingly inadequate and developers are land banking.
More building on brownfield land could reduce the problem, but some of that land with derelict structures (some including contaminated ground and asbestos) carries a big clean-up cost. Also, if it is not in the right place then developers have little interest in it.
The position is unlikely to change, until the monopoly held by many big developers is broken. That might be achieved by pushing back built up areas boundaries, while not allowing the big boys to extend their monopolies and allowing smaller companies in.
Why might there be insufficient incentive to do that? Well, according to the Guardian (June 11th) property developers gave the Tories £891,000 in the first quarter of this year. There may of course be no connection, but surely the potential conflict of interests should be addressed.
The good news is that there are apparently circa 90 Tory MPs on a WhatsApp planning group, who are apparently determined to put things right. Why not ask your MP if he has joined them and if not why not? You could also ask if he/she is a director or shareholder, with a large builder or developer.
The Tories received a good kicking in the recent Amersham by-election, seemingly partly as a result of perceived speculative development. But many voters will likely revert to type, due to their fear of Woke parties in a General Election. The problem is unlikely to be addressed until we get a viable anti-Woke, non PC Opposition party, which is not over-dependent on big donors. Keep scanning the horizon for one!
One reason why the Brexit process was so fraught, was that many MPs in the two main parties didn’t want to leave the EU, although 63% of constituencies voted to. Even the smaller opposition parties wanted to remain. We desperately need a credible opposition which is solely in power to serve the people and not vested interests.