An article about housing plans written by Christopher Pincher, the Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was published yesterday on the Conservative Home website. He is attempting to explain the way in which local Councils need to respond to the latest Government strategy which was set out back in 2018 to achieve 300,000 homes each year. Christopher has only been the Housing Minister since mid February this year and so his opportunities to make comments about planning issues has been delayed due to COVID-19 but he is now setting out to raise the subject, at least to the Tory Councils through this article. Prior to the Housing role he was Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since Johnson became Prime Minister. However it is encouraging he can recall what happened two years ago, let us hope in due course he can be educated regarding what took place a few years earlier. At the outset of his article he writes
Earlier this month, the government set out its ambition to introduce much needed reforms to bring our planning system into the twenty-first century. Our aim: to get the country building better-designed, more environmentally-friendly homes and help people onto the housing ladder. Alongside these longer-term reforms, we are consulting on shorter term interventions in the current system to align it with our housing goals: building 300,000 homes a year and tackling housing affordability.
These words sound very sensible if one had the confidence that the changes to the planning regulations would improve matters for our nation. Sadly however his boss has made enough indications that the reforms of the planning rules will make it far too easy for people to ignore the very important elements of our local planning conditions. However the later part of the article raises another concern which to be fair goes back just over a decade, but he is not so young or so out of touch with advisers that his ignorance could be justified.
It was a Conservative government that got rid of top-down regional planning targets, and introduced a-locally led system, which takes account of local need and local constraints. Localism requires local decision-making – and our system puts councillors at the forefront of those decisions.
So the regional agencies which included the South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) which I was part of from 2002-2009 did indeed have to take on board the demands from the Government of the day. That is where the top down element arose. However the regional assemblies were made up from a combination of all of the local authorities in the areas as well as a wide range of voluntary and charitable agencies, environmental agencies and businesses. They also included agencies such as the NHS, Education and in some regions the Police and Fire and Rescue. By sitting down together and taking on the local needs and opportunities from across a wide range of locations, along with the strategic demands from the Government, the SEERA and other RA’s were able to shape the top down demands into something that addressed all of the issues that this Government has claimed it is focusing on, 10 years later. However it was not top down at all, indeed it was a very useful group that enabled Councils to work together with a wide range of other bodies and make the regional strategy truly fit for their local settings.
I was very fortunate to get to know a number of people in SEERA including the person with the senior planning role who was Catriona Riddell. It was Catriona who alerted me and a number of other people to the publication of the article from Christopher Pincher. In doing so Catriona kindly wrote this piece which was very helpful. We can only hope that some of the people who are able to inform Mr Pincher will see it.
I wasn’t quite sure where to begin with this, so maybe it’s worth reminding the Minister responsible for planning of some facts. Housing targets in regional strategies were set by Government so, in theory, yes, they were imposed from the top. But they were developed by local authorities, supported by extensive evidence and consultation, and thoroughly tested at examination. Quite different to what Mr Pincher & Co are proposing in #planningforthefuture