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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Black

(Planning) Funeral Blues

(Planning) Funeral Blues

(With props to WH Auden)

Stop all the local plans, cut off the five year housing land supply

Prevent the councils from barking with announcements that rules don’t apply

Silence the developers and with muffled drum

Bring out the planning coffin, let the nimbies come

I know I’ve been promising a blog for weeks so here goes.

There are some weeks when it feels like the writing might be on the wall for strategic planning and the past few have been some of those.

First off, as the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) continues its progression through the reading stages in the commons, so has the progression of the language coming from Gove on wider thoughts on what might lie ahead for strategic plan making. It is well known that the LURB proposes that councils with an up-to-date local plan will no longer be required to maintain a rolling five-year housing land supply (another day, another blog on that!). Gove’s comments in the house on housing figures were equally widely reported where he told MPs that the government would be “taking steps to ensure that the Planning Inspectorate, when it is reviewing a local plan and deciding whether it is sound, does not impose on local communities an obligation to meet figures on housing need that cannot be met given the environmental and other constraints in particular communities”.

Pretty much summed up in a nutshell by Zack Simons as ‘we will prevent people who work for us from following the guidance we’ve written for them to follow’ – couldn’t have put it better myself (or anywhere near actually!)

We were promised (briefly) a new NPPF before the summer but then told that no what we are getting is actually prospectus which sets out what the changes might be. So what.... like a ‘white paper’ that you can change your mind about later?

Just this week East Hampshire announced that it will delay production of its local plan by a year with the council leader saying that ‘the government methodology for assessing housing need is deeply flawed and is focused on a misleading algorithm for what is needed without any real consideration of what is possible.’ Even those that have gone right through the process don’t escape getting binned. Castlepoint had their plan found sound in March this year. At a meeting last week the members of the council led by the new independent leader of the council voted unanimously to withdraw the local plan in order to start work immediately on a new local plan that reflects the central government stated aim to protect and preserve the precious green belt in our local area".

The problem is that I just feel that everyone is disenfranchised when this happens. All the hard work done by council officers. The wasted money spent on the evidence base and on the examination. All the endless hours of work put in by all the participants of the local plan process. For those with allocations in that sound plan, what next for them? Applications that will require Very Special Circumstances to be made out but will most likely end up at appeal? Or will Gove be brave enough to do what Jenrick did at SODC and tell them they had to adopt?

Frankly, I don’t blame Castlepoint and East Hampshire for doing what they are doing. And with the vernacular coming from Gove et al I highly suspect more will follow. Personally I find the whole thing deeply depressing. Strategic Planners in both the public and private sector are committed and passionate to delivering sustainable development in the form of new communities. It just feels harder and harder than ever do that right now in the normal ‘plan led’ way that we have long been told to. We are fast moving from a ‘plan led’ to an ‘appeal led’ and even a ‘litigation led’ system.

Perhaps I'm a bit tired and emotional after a very busy week. As always I'm happy to be convinced that things are different and I'm being overly dramatic.

Weeks like this lead to some pretty existential questions being asked by many. For Johnson, he has now played 5 and lost 4 in by-elections this year alone and things are getting desperate. What more is in store from a government that is seemingly fixated on telling people what they think they want to hear on planning rather than doing what they actually know is right? When my beloved AFC Wimbledon lost 4 out of 5 games at the end of the last season we ended up getting relegated…….just saying.

AB - my own thoughts

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