LETTER: Looks like another policy on the hoof

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Many regular readers have noticed that the National Planning Policy allows un-elected Planning Inspectors to permit speculative building on greenfield and flood prone sites, whilst developers avoid brownfield sites.

Having realised this, the Planning Minister seems to be proposing: “A new presumption in favour of development on virtually all brownfield sites, because developers claim that they are often too difficult and expensive to bring back into use. This stance has led to massive pressure on councils to free up green field sites for development – to the anger of many rural communities.”

Whilst the objective is laudable there is no evidence that the Minister has done his homework on how this might increase the rate of house building, or not.

Developers have preferred greenfield (to brownfield sites) for the obvious reasons that the site preliminary clean up costs tend to be lower and the overall cost and market price can be held at a more affordable level. Accordingly one wonders why that should have only just come onto the Minister’s radar.

However, there is no evidence that overall building costs would be notably lower on brownfield sites (with no need for Planning Approval) than if houses were on greenfield land, with a need for Planning Approval.

Consider for example Shoreham Cement factory site, where the preliminary site preparation costs are likely to far outweigh Planning Approval costs. If the DCLG has evidence that the overall balance has a net positive benefit on developer’s costs, then why have we not been allowed to see the case for change?

We also know i) that house building rates are beginning to peak, as price/wage ratios move further away from the long term trend of around 4:1 and ii) that interest rates rises are now threatened. Accordingly there is no realistic prospect of meeting a sustained national target of 240,000 new houses pa nationally, nor 650pa in HD and it is of regret that the Local Planning Framework makes no attempt to qualify the latter arbitrary target.

Once again, developers are being put in the driving seat, denying Local Authorities control over the location and rate of development, with its impact on the infrastructure, not to mention other factors such as pollution. Whilst such impacts may be limited, local authorities should surely not be further emasculated, unless real benefit can be demonstrated.

If the Coalition has done its homework this time, then the Planning Minister should demonstrate how the amended policy addresses the reality of market forces.

For the moment it looks like another example of policy on the hoof, which will have little impact on the rate of house building.

Roger Arthur

(UKIP) Horsham district councillor for Chanctonbury and UKIP candidate for Horsham Parliamentary Constituency, Melrose Place, Storrington