Planning Laws

h1. Planning Laws

p(meta). 4 October 2011

The government has told us that there’s a significant factor limiting economic growth. While I’m sure we all have a good idea that there must be a number of things that can fall into this category, I’m guessing that the government surprised us all when it claimed that this factor was the planning laws.

The government claims that ‘red tape’ is preventing the construction of much needed homes. These homes, it argues, are essential to kick-start the economy, and the action of local authorities and ‘NIMBYs’ is preventing these homes being built. The government has suggested that planning permission for greenfield sites should be granted far more often, and once this happens the supply of homes will magically increase, including those allocated for social housing.

There are a few problems with this. Firstly, there is actually no shortage of greenfield sites with planning permission already granted. Over 300,000 plots for new homes with full planning permission are already held in land banks by developers. By some estimates there is enough of this banked land to build at full capacity for nearly seven years. It would seem that actually getting the land and planning permission does not seem to be a significant barrier to the construction industry.

A major concern is the apparent willingness of the government to concrete over green fields rather than use derelict land that already exists. Not only is this land generally unused and unpleasant to look at, but it is often much more conveniently placed in towns and cities to use the existing infrastructure. It is also closer to road and rail links and places of work. Building housing on such sites would contribute less new traffic and pollution.

The Tories are in a difficult position. They get a lot of votes from farmers and rural types, but at the same time the massive majority of their funding comes from the City and big business. Big business wants to build indentikit estates in the London commuter belt. Wealthy people want to live in the suburbs, not the city. It’s also profitable to build out of town shopping centres, nuclear power stations, and so on. Changing the planning rules will make this easier, but these are all things that people in rural areas generally resist. It would be convenient for local councils and rural MPs to be able to wash their hands of the responsibility.

I suggest that not a single house should be built on greenfield sites while there are any brownfield sites in areas where housing is required. This seems so obvious that its shouldn’t even have to be said. The same is true of empty housing - there were nearly 80,000 empty dwellings in London alone in 2010 and 737,491 across England. This is a mind-boggling number. These should be used before any more are built. Only when the brownfield sites have gone and the empty houses are being used should we consider building on our open spaces.