Government plans to increase house-building in England by relaxing controls on development have been met with trepidation by some housing experts.
Today’s (May 11) Queen’s Speech confirmed that the commencing Parliamentary session will see the introduction of a Planning Bill to “overhaul” the system on a scale not seen since 1947.
The primary purpose of the bill, say the government, is to streamline planning processes and make it easier and quicker for housing developments to be constructed - helping meet demand both for social and private sector housing, and increasing home ownership.
While Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, welcomed the “fresh hope” offered to social and private renters in plans for a renter’s reform bill, she questioned how long it might be before such renters see a promised increase in housing:
"The Prime Minister says his reforms of the planning system will result in more homes - and specifically more social homes – but how long will this all take? We'll be judging these changes on whether they can deliver the social housing we need at pace”, she said.
“The housing emergency isn’t going to wait for any planning reforms to slowly take effect”, she added.
The Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Chief Executive Victoria Hills, meanwhile, welcomed the bill as an opportunity for the government to “be truly ambitious and deliver beautiful, healthy and well-connected green development”.
She added, however, that further “nuance” may be needed over plans to designate land into one of three categories with corresponding levels of planning control.
Proposals to categorise land as for ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ or ‘protection’ have drawn some controversy, with planning permissions not required for building in areas designated for “growth”.
“We suggest that further nuance would be required, to differentiate areas needing radical new masterplanning from industrial areas ripe for redevelopment and from suburbs”, said Hills.
“Community Planners must play a crucial role ensuring local people have their voices heard in the process, alongside investment in digital infrastructure to expand engagement”, she added.
The Community Planning Alliance, a recently-formed national campaigns group, have expressed skepticism over the planning bill’s ability to deliver affordable housing. A spokesperson for the Alliance said:
“Even before the changes announced today the system is stacked against communities and against the environment, and is failing to provide the affordable homes the country desperately needs.”
“The forthcoming Planning Bill will likely lead to more speculative land acquisition and building of larger unaffordable housing”, they added.
Parliament are set to debate the reforms outlined in the Queen’s speech in the coming week, with the planning bill set for further scrutiny on Tuesday, May 18.