Leading land agents Aston Mead have dismissed proposed changes to planning rules announced in the Queen’s Speech this week as “unworkable and unfair”.
The Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill would allow ‘street votes’ with new housing developments being blocked if a two-thirds ‘super-majority’ of residents do not agree to support a plan.
The ‘street votes’ scheme also goes a step further in giving communities a say, where most loft conversions, conservatories and extensions could be built without full planning permission, as long as a third of neighbours did not object.
Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Charles Hesse said: “These proposals are deeply flawed. There will always be a proportion of local residents who are opposed to any sort of change, at any time in the future – even when they haven’t considered the benefits those changes might bring. They seem to believe that despite a growing population with new and different needs and requirements, a policy of preserving the past in some sort of architectural aspic is the best option.
“The truth is that this kind of approach gives a minority of people the majority of the power. And it will make plans for much needed new homes on some sites simply unworkable – which is why it’s so unfair. In fact, one of our planning contacts told me this week that this current Tory government is the most anti-housing government he has known in a lifetime.”
The Levelling Up Bill would also impose a non-negotiable levy on the value of new development, with a proportion of developer profits being used to fund schools, surgeries and roads. It’s hoped this would encourage residents to agree to more local housebuilding, replacing ‘Section 106’ contributions whereby developers pay for infrastructure to meet the needs of the area in which they are building.
Charles Hesse added: “Of course, we think that there should be an element of affordable housing provided on each large site; that goes without saying. But any money paid by developers to the local authority should be ringfenced and used to supply affordable houses on its own land. The council can then offer those homes at low rent, rather than having to pay landlords housing benefit. This would give the local authority more control, add protection from abuse, and provide it with a long-term financial plan.
“But as far as ‘street votes’ are concerned, even if giving residents so much control sounds desirable and democratic at first hearing, it is simply not possible for local residents to decide absolutely everything about urban planning in their area.
“Quite rightly, former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons this week that despite acknowledging how crucial it was to build hundreds of thousands of new homes, successive governments have failed to do so.
“I’m afraid to say that after hearing proposals such as these, there’s every chance this government will follow suit.”