LETTER: Planning system is in disarray

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Government ministers continue under the delusion that Local Authorities (LAs) can magically increase house-build rates to match population growth, even if there are not enough able buyers in the market. That flawed expectation was inherited from the defunct Regional Plans.

Ministers even introduced a so called New Homes Bonus ‘incentive’ for LAs and empowered the Planning Inspectorate (PI) to override decisions by LAs, where there is a significant gap between i) build rates or Local Plan (LP) projections & ii) the PI’s (unrealistic) expectations.

These are the main reasons why the Planning System is in disarray, why many have lost confidence in the concept of Localism, why the PI recently refused to adopt 44 out of 50 LPs and why developers in this district have apparently land banked approvals for around 7,000 dwellings.

In 2012, I repeatedly asked how Economic Growth Rates were to be factored into HDC’s projections. One of HDC’s many consultants responded ‘that is the 6 million dollar question’ but continued to advise that population growth must be used, for planning purposes.

On Friday at Rydon, Nick Herbert MP understood why there is a ‘gap’ but was unable to support the request for a moratorium on the un-elected Inspectorate’s use of powers to bypass LAs, which would have allowed time for Local Plans (LPs) to be completed properly.

Instead, he proposes that PIs should take account of draft Local Plan content when making decisions, which would unfortunately replace one fudge with another.

To avoid speculative and inappropriate development, we need specific instructions to the un-elected PI, eg:

That presumption in favour shall not be applied to sites, listed by LAs as un-developable.

PIs shall stop expecting LAs to raise new build rates, to match population growth.

Residents shall not be disadvantaged, because their authority is under special measures.

Clearly neither residents, nor the countryside deserve to suffer, because HDC has been put under special measures, due to perceived poor planning performance.

In addition to the above specific measures, HDC will need to consider the ongoing risk of inappropriate development around Category 1 settlements, where FAD applies.

We were asked at Rydon what we would do, given the powers of Prime Minister for a day. My response was that I would appoint a fully competent Planning Minister and one who understands some fundamentals, such as that LAs cannot make developers build houses.

A coach and horses has been driven through the concept of Localism and residents do not deserve the mess that the planning system is now in. It will take considerable effort to restore confidence and hopefully Nick Herbert is taking that message back to Westminster.

Roger Arthur

(UKIP) Horsham District Councillor for Ashington, Thakeham, West Chiltington and Wiston