Can Gove fix the planning system?

By Penny Mills, Devon CPRE Director

In this month’s column, Devon CPRE Director Penny Mills asks if we dare pin our hopes on the new Housing Minister.

Boris Johnson’s conference pledge that new houses should not be built on ‘green fields’ signals a softening in the seismic planning overhaul proposed by the Government last summer. Michael Gove’s appointment as the new Housing Minister is another sign that a change of strategy is imminent, but given the Government’s recent history on housing and planning, it’s certainly too soon to celebrate.

Michael Gove is the latest in a long line of politicians to board the ludicrous merry-go-round of Housing Ministers. In fact, he’s the twentieth Housing Minister in 24 years! Let’s hope he lasts longer than his predecessors and finally manages to make the planning system fit for the complex challenges of the 21st century.

The provision of the right number and kind of new homes, at prices people in normal jobs can afford, is a pressing issue. Yet, instead of a steadfast approach, we’ve seen one minister after another come and go, barely in the job long enough to get their feet under the table. What we need now is an informed and considered policy and someone who is committed to finding real solutions.

We at Devon CPRE believe the proposals unveiled in last year’s Planning for the Future white paper amount to a ‘property developer’s charter’ and CPRE supporters have made their opposition known. The Government has also faced discontent within its ranks from Tory MPs and voters across the South of England. This mounting pressure led the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee to recommend a re-think of certain aspects of the proposals. In particular, the simplistic ‘zoned’ approach to development, under which different planning rules would apply depending on whether land was demarcated for growth, renewal or protection. Although it’s welcome news that some of the most damaging elements of what was a top-down developer’s charter have reportedly been binned, the devil will be in the detail.

The critical situation in the South Hams is a case in point, there simply aren’t enough affordable homes (to buy or rent) for local people and those wanting to work in the district. This is despite the local authority having a five-year land supply for housing, an adopted Joint Local Plan with Plymouth and West Devon and an adopted Housing Strategy that they consulted on last year.

There’s a complete lack of joined-up thinking too. Until now, developers have pretty much had ‘free rein’ to cover our green fields with new homes or even new towns. However, the 5,500 houses built at Sherford near Plymouth haven’t resulted in a single extra bed at Derriford Hospital!

The Government finally seems to have acknowledged people’s fears that the countryside is being desecrated by new housing and that developers’ profits have for too long been put ahead of the needs of local communities. Let’s hope actions follow their recent words. If you would like to support our work to protect the countryside for future generations, find out more at www.devoncpre.org.uk

Author: Laura White

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