A proposed shake-up of the planning system is “very bad” and based on “a completely erroneous view”, a former civil service chief has warned.
Lord Kerslake, who is president of the Local Government Association, told Parliament that planning was not the obstacle to building more homes.
However, based on a “completely incorrect understanding” of the real problems facing house-building, the Government planned to remove “a basic democratic right” of councils to decide on individual applications.
The independent crossbencher made his criticism as peers continued their debate of the Queen’s Speech, which set out Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda.
The Government said the Planning Bill will create a simpler, faster and more modern system, ensuring homes and infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, can be delivered more quickly across England.
But Lord Kerslake said: “The Government’s legislative programme contains the usual mix of the good, the bad and the very bad, as well as one frankly, disgraceful omission, namely the lack of any plan to respond to the growing crisis in social care. The Planning Bill… will fall into the very bad category.”
While he welcomed some aspects, such as the move to increase the use of digital technology, he added: “However, it is based on a completely erroneous view – that the way to more and better housing is yet another reform of our planning system.”
Arguing that “planning is not the main problem”, Lord Kerslake told the upper chamber: “Of course a few schemes take longer to get approved than they should do and some councils are better than others.
“But in the round the Local Government Association’s figures tell the real story. Nine out of 10 planning applications are approved by local planning authorities and there are more than a million application permissions over the last decade that are still to be built.”
Bigger issues included viability, infrastructure and “developer caution”, he insisted.
‘There is time for the government to act’
Lord Kerslake went on: “Yet based on this completely incorrect understanding of the true barriers to building new homes the Government plans to remove a basic democratic right of local councils to make decisions on individual applications and replace it with a zonal system and a single national infrastructure levy.
“There is still time for the Government to listen and take a different path on this.”
Opening the debate, Communities Minister Lord Greenhalgh had stressed the benefits of the proposed planning legislation.
He said: “It will simplify and modernise the system, embracing digital tools to allow people to visualise and engage with local plans.
“It will provide a quicker, simpler planning process, speeding up the delivery of the homes that the country needs.
“It will give a new focus to environmental protections, streamlining environmental impact assessments.
“It will ask every local area to produce its own design code to reflect its unique identity.
“It will ensure that developers pay for their fair share of affordable housing and infrastructure, which is why we are exploring a simpler, faster and more transparent infrastructure levy.”
But Labour frontbencher Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said: “We believe that these proposals are a developers’ charter: removing powers from local representatives and handing them to Whitehall-appointed boards of developers.
“It does not address the scandal of planning permission already having been granted for an estimated one million homes that are yet to be built.
“It does not require all new-build homes to meet the stringent energy and sustainability standards that are crucial to meeting our climate change obligations.
“It does nothing to address the growing housing crisis our country faces.”