We must build back local to find the right solution for each place.
England is a great, diverse, and varied country, which is partly what makes it so special. So why is it that governments have historically so often sought to have a one-size-fits-all approach?
If we are truly to have levelling up and devolution, it needs to be focused on local decision-making, yet all too often the default setting of government is to seek to have more centralised powers and a focus on prescriptive processes.
Planning is yet another example of this.
For as long as I have been in local government, the central theme has been one of removing local powers and discretion, with a national system. Yet the housing and regeneration issues we face are vastly different across the country.
If we are going to be successful, we need to find solutions that are right for each village, town and city across the country, and we must build back local. This cannot be done through a nationalised system.
The Planning Bill provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure reforms that will deliver safe, prosperous and healthy places for generations to come, as well as the homes we need.
All too often planning reforms, while they have had the best of intentions, have not been tested in delivery and have made the system worse. We cannot afford to make that mistake again.
We all know that some of the current planning rules simply do not work at the frontline; however, it is vital that reforms are carefully considered, with input from all those who participate in good, effective planning.
“It is vital that planning is founded on democracy”
We need a localised planning system that is focused on delivering quality housing and improving the communities we all live in. This means infrastructure upfront, making sure housing addresses local needs, and having local jobs and sustainability.
As recent LGA polling has shown (first 662), eight in 10 residents want to be able to have their say on all new homes built in their local community. It is therefore vital that planning is founded on democracy.
We must also get away from the notion that councils are blockers to housing growth. They are not. Councils have been approving nine in 10 planning applications.
There are also more than 1.1 million homes that have been given planning permission over the past decade which are still yet to be built, and, in addition, one million homes allocated in local plans that have not yet been brought forward for planning.
The issue is getting the homes built: we need the tools to make landowners and developers build.
If homes are to gain local support, they need to: meet local needs; be well integrated with, and improve, local communities; have the right infrastructure – not just roads, but schools, green infrastructure, parks, and health services; and be sustainable.
All too often, poor developments, lack of infrastructure and inappropriate permitted developments have undermined public support for much-needed homes. We need a reset, and councils are keen to work with government to get these critical reforms right.