Monday, 19 September 2011

Planning reform - it needs to happen - its just a question of how

Planning reform needs to happen. It's complex and it is slow to react. It distorts local views and often angers communities and citizens.

Controversial elements of the Governments planning reform (National Planning Policy Framework) include presumption in favour of sustainable development on green field sites and removing the town centre first planning rule.

The Government have a point on the former. There seems to be a lobby congealing around the National Trust that all development should be at the expense of the poorest and to the benefit of the wealthiest members of society.

In terms of spatial planning that people in well to do urban fringe communities should have their Jerusalem protected whilst the urban poor can choke in their Sodom and Gomorrah hell of post industrial over crowding and a lack of meaningful green space that the National Trust seem unwilling to pursue.

Added to this is the double punishment that urban land costs are forced up leading to lower cost developments and higher housing prices. The inverse of the urban fringe who protect high values with premium values on what green land is released perpetuating and the protecting  'for the rich only'.

In the end an acres worth of development land is an acres worth of development land. Why can't we have the green and pleasant in the urban area and reverse the cycle of the rich getting richer and poor, poorer.

Wouldn't be even better if the exorbitant land costs could be further reduced by a separate planning designation for Council houses only and a fast track compulsory purchase order given the housing crises and in the national interest.

Caroline Flint MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary, has called on the Tory-led Government to end the chaos and confusion caused by their rush to amend national planning guidance, and to bring forward major amendments to their proposed National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). She has raised the issue of the Government doing away with the 'town centre first' planning rule.

Tesco's expressed an intention to locate in Accrington. I am sure their preference given previous practice would have been to locate somewhere like Arnold Clarkes next to the Sports Centre sucking trade out of the town centre.

In that case ‘town centre first’ planning rule prevented them with the Council identifying a 90,000 sq foot site where Tesco's have now located. Under new rules proposed by the Conservatives, they would be able to locate where ever they wished in Hyndburn.

More pertinently (and leaving aside other problems) is the case of Peel Holdings who wish to take thousands of customers from Accrington Town Centre and have them shop at a revamped quasi town centre at Whitebirk retail park. This is how buig business operates. Without concern for the social and community consequences of their actions.

This legislation will give them carte blanch and we must fight to overturn a reckless proposal and give local communities greater powers than they currently enjoy to determine development in tier area..

Caroline Flint, Labour's spokesperson said: “The Government may choose to ignore our advice, but now Mary Portas, their own adviser on the high street appointed by the Prime Minister, has laid into their plans. Is the Government listening to anyone at all? They have bypassed Mary Portas, and even one of the Government’s four experts who helped draft the document has accused them of re-writing it.

“The Government’s ending of the ‘town centre first’ planning rule flies in the face of commonsense. When many towns and cities have 20-30% of high street units empty, this is the last thing Britain’s high streets need. The Government should change course – and get behind Labour’s action plan to revive the High Street.”

Ms Flint also called for the NPPF consultation to be extended for an urgent parliamentary debate, and for a promise that Parliament will have a vote on the final NPPF document. She said:

“An extension of the consultation would enable Mary Portas to complete her report on Britain’s high streets, before the NPPF is set in stone. Without extending the consultation and giving parliament the final say, no one will believe that the Government is listening to its critics. The Government have got to restore people’s faith in this process and end the chaos they have created.”