Back when I was new to the Labour Party, I remember wondering why people spent so much time at party meetings discussing ‘planning’ when most of us had joined to support public services, tackle poverty, and fight inequalities. What I didn’t know then was how much planning shapes all of these things, along with every other part of our daily lives.
Without effective planning we lack affordable housing, we lose local employers, and public services end up overstretched. The planning system exists so that all local needs can be assessed, suitable areas can be designated for meeting those needs, and organisations can then bring forward development meeting those needs in those areas.
These plans cover a fifteen year period and are brought forward on a rolling basis, ensuring all local needs can be met. Unfortunately, over the last ten years this system has come under assault, with developers increasingly being given the power to bring forward some types of development without needing planning permission or paying any of the usual contributions towards increasing local public services and infrastructure to meet the new demands their development is creating.
The Government’s argument has been that local authorities needlessly turn down applications, so to get housing built they have to be bypassed. Yet, councils in England have already given developers permission to build over 400,000 new homes which they have chosen not to use and the developments they are bringing forward without planning permission are those low-grade office conversions which everyone complaints about. National reviews of the impact of this change in policy have thoroughly condemned its impact on communities.
Now the Government is taking this policy even further, including giving people the ability to double the height of their home without needing planning permission. That means neither you, nor your whole street, nor any of your elected representatives will be able to do a thing if your neighbours do something which ruins the appearance of your entire street.
Planning exists for a reason, it affects the whole community, yet Government seem determined to remove people’s ability to say what happens to their area.