The government’s slogan of “Build, Build, Build”, coupled with radical reforms to the planning system, promises a utopia it will struggle to deliver.
The reforms centre around deregulation, with the aim being to make it easier to build homes where people want to live. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick wrote in the Telegraph of the reforms building houses “with green spaces”, “new parks at close hand”, “tree-lined streets” and neighbours who are not strangers.
The reality of these reforms will most likely be very different, and jeopardises the livelihoods of some of society’s most vulnerable.
The latest proposals include dividing England’s land into three different categories: growth, renewal, or protection. Pre-approved “design codes” would automatically be allowed in “growth” areas, and granted “permission in principle” in renewal areas.
Additionally, the recent extension of permitted development rights allows buildings such as offices and shops to be converted into housing without the need for planning permission.
A combination of these policies present a threat of the production of low-quality slum housing. Only 22% of permitted development homes meet the space standards nationally accepted, and less than 5% have access to an outdoor area. Automatic planning permission without proper checks, as indicated through permitted development, compromises quality of home and livelihood. With deregulation to the planning system, agreed “design codes” could be produced to a low standard for the sake of developers producing quickly and on a large scale.
As the government aims to fulfil its pledge of 300,000 new houses a year with these proposals and policies, there is a danger that the safety and wellbeing of future inhabitants of the dwellings will be put at risk. Whilst reform to the system is necessary to build sustainable and environmental homes of the future, simply cutting checks of quality and safety whilst hindering local voices is not the solution.
Further, charities such as Shelter, aimed at ending homelessness, have voiced concerns over such schemes. To encourage small developers to build, the proposal is to end “section 106” payments for small sites – the mechanism for developers to be required to produce affordable, social housing. Such payments are also bypassed under permitted development without the need for planning permission. Without such a requirement, social housing will continue to suffer, already underfunded and underproduced.
The government needs to reconsider such proposals and schemes that are in developer’s best interests, but without adequate checks threaten inhabitants with low quality housing, whilst neglecting the desperate need for social housing.