Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 30th June 2021

This year marks the 300th Anniversary of the death of Elihu Yale, the British politician after whom Yale University is named. It was a death marred by scandal, not due to the pivotal role Yale played in maintaining the slave trade and the countless lives it cost, but because he was living with a woman who was not his wife. How often we focus on politicians’ personal lives, when it is the appalling decisions they’ve taken in office on which they really should be judged.

Closer to home, 2021 is also the 75th Anniversary of the New Towns Act, the post-war Labour Government’s legislation which directly led to the creation of Crawley and dozens of other ‘new’ towns across the UK.

At the time, the Act was incredibly successful at creating well-balanced communities, with decent public services, and housing affordable to everybody. This wasn’t luck, at the heart of the New Town movement was the belief that many of the social ills of the day could be resolved through effective planning and that’s what they set out to do.

Unfortunately, the UK has lost its way over the years since. The restrictions on council house building in the 1980s are at the centre of our current social housing shortages. Worse, planning has shifted from actively building successful communities to just trying to limit the damage private developments have on those communities.

In theory, in our system developers are required to contribute towards an area’s affordable housing needs, while paying for the increased pressures their development will have on local public services to ensure existing residents don’t suffer. Instead, we have a national system which defaults in favour of developers, making it increasingly hard to reject an application and easy for developers to shirk their responsibilities to the community while turning huge profits.

The Government’s ‘Developers’ Charter’ is set to make things worse, effectively handing planning decisions over to developers, depriving residents of a say on changes which will hugely affect their way of life and at a time when developers are sitting on 1.1m unused planning permissions, impossible to justify.

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