Centralised house building powers completely ignores the needs and opinions of local communities
Despite being ‘local’ plans, the power over housing building has become more centralised at national level, taking power away from local authorities, says Anne Marie Morris MP.
Our communities wouldn’t be what they are without the people who live in them. This is why it is crucial that we are able to provide housing that meets and suits the needs of residents through a process that doesn’t leave them feeling disenfranchised.
The type and quantity of housing an area needs are set out in Local Plans. The plans set out local planning policies and identifies how land is used, determining what will be built where. Unfortunately, the formula that sets the number of houses needed is flawed and the system isn’t strong enough to enforce types of housing needed. Currently, the system enables developers to build ‘executive homes’ by claiming they are unable to afford to build other types of housing. Therefore, we end up with housing that is neither affordable nor suits the housing needs of the local population.
Furthermore, despite being ‘local’ plans, the power over housing building has become more centralised at national level, taking power away from local authorities. Such a move completely ignores the needs and opinions of local communities; the ones who often know best.
Housing needs to add value to the community. Developments need to be appropriate for the communities in which they are being placed. Local Authorities need to have the ability to designate what types of housing are being built, in order to ensure that the housing needs of the local community are met. There are a number of benefits to ensuring we have the correct housing stock, especially with regard to health and social care. Communities should endeavour to keep elderly residents in their own homes for as long as it is possible to do so. Unfortunately, such a move is impossible if there aren’t the correct types of adapted homes for residents to live in.
One roadblock that often exists when building new housing is the lack of infrastructure in place. Building a development becomes somewhat redundant if there are no road connections or local amenities. When planning permission is granted there needs to be a deal between developer and council on who will build what. Often, the local authority can’t afford to put in the infrastructure themselves.
Throughout my time in Parliament, I have been a strong advocate of the introduction of ‘community right of appeal’. This would enable a proper rebalancing of the planning system to be fair and balanced. The idea would be to ensure that between the developer and the community, both sides’ arguments are properly considered and have some power in the process.
There must be true planning grounds for such a right of appeal, including a situation in which the local authority was ignoring Government guidance. There would be grounds for appeal if the local authority failed to abide by the provisions of a local plan or a neighbourhood plan. Finally, there could be an appeal if there was a failure to provide sufficient infrastructure.
There must be weight behind an appeal, and therefore a percentage of the community that feels strongly about an issue. This would require a reasonably high threshold before a planning appeal can be triggered, in order to avoid accusations of ‘nimbyism’.
The benefits of this process would be that the community would at last see some fairness; that developers would be encouraged in a proactive way to better engage with communities; that local authorities would have to think long and hard, and not only about the community infrastructure levy, when making their decisions; and that in the future we would create communities rather than blocks of houses.
I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss this vitally important issue in Westminster Hall this afternoon.
Anne Marie Morris is Conservative MP for Newton Abbott.