On 7 June  2016 two members of the Cranleigh Civic Society attended the first joint All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Civic Societies  and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Local Democracy at Portcullis House, Westminster.

The headline was “Is the Planning System Working?” and the session was to help to explore the efficiency of the planning system and how to give communities a greater voice in the existing planning policy.

The line-up included Craig MacKinlay MP, Chair of the APPG for Civic Societies , Scott Mann MP, Vice-chair of the APPG on Local Democracy, Clive Betts MP, Baroness Parminter, and finally Lord Porter of Spalding CBE.

Neighbourhood Plans

Overall the panel recommended that people have their say through Neighbourhood Plans (NP) and it was confirmed that NPs could and should progress even if the Local Plan is not in place.

At the moment Waverley do not have a Local Plan.  However, by the end of next week we could know the number of houses that is being allocated to Cranleigh, as the Local Plan is due to go before the Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee at Waverley on Monday, 27th June, 2016 7.00 pm. 

Area Planning Inspectors

We welcomed the idea raised at the meeting of individual area planning inspectors who could carry out site visits, as opposed to relying on developers’ desktop surveys.  Our experience has been that the planning authority will always rely on a desktop study rather than well documented local knowledge.

in addition there was a suggestion to give Parish and Town Councils extra powers to call in applications.  At the moment the local planning authority (Waverley) must take into account the representations of the Parish Councils. However, the representations of the Parish Councils are not necessarily
entitled to any more weight than any other representations and are given less weight than the observations of statutory consultees like the Environment Agency, Highways Authority, English Heritage  etc.

Housing Supply

It was widely recognised that developers will only release land to maximise profits, and not in line with Government targets to meet housing need.

There is no incentive for builders to flood the market, particularly in any single area like Cranleigh, as this could have a downward effect on house prices and ultimately developers’ profits.  It was suggested that only a mass social housing scheme by government could fill the gap between need and the actual number of houses being built. However we see little, if no, evidence of this coming about.

It was also pointed out that the side-effect of building enough houses would mean an overall reduction in house prices and this would be unpopular with a lot of homeowners.

There were also a few comments on the increasing change of usage of properties from commercial to residential, and in particular the loss of local shops. Although it was recognised that there had been a rapid change in the use of high streets over the past few years and there was a need for businesses to adapt to these changes, it was also pointed out that high returns to the property owners from a change of usage was a major driver.

Financial Viability

There were calls for far more transparency around financial viability on the part of developers.  Developers can currently use secretive calculations on how much profit they need to make a scheme viable to avoid paying for items like much needed affordable housing.

Housing and Planning Act 2016

There was also some concern expressed about the introduction by Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) of competition in planning to speed up the planning process with the introduction, through the Housing and Planning Act 2016,  of “Alternative Providers”, which include private companies.

Alternative providers – Introducing competition to speed up the planning process with “alternative providers”, rather than the local planning authority.  Applicants will be able to choose a “designated person” to process certain applications (pilot scheme at present). There are eligibility criteria for these “designated persons”, which include other planning authorities and private companies. The final decision still lies with the local planning authority.

Concerns raised included the independence of private companies and individuals when determining planning applications.  It was also pointed out that the limited fees charged by LPA’s to assess planning applications would not make this an attractive proposition for a private company.  The implications are that this may result in a quicker but far less rigorous study of planning applications in the future.

Other key changes to the planning system brought about by the Housing and Planning Act include:

Starter Homes  – 20% of homes delivered on new sites of more than 10 dwellings or 0.5ha should be starter homes. Starter Homes are new dwellings available for purchase by first time buyers between the age of 23 and of 40, to be sold at a discount of at least 20% of the market value, for less than £250,000 outside Greater London and £450,000 in Greater London. Starter homes will also be subject to certain restrictions on re- sale or letting.

Planning in principle  – Automatic planning permission granted for residential development allocated in a Local Plan, a Neighbourhood Plan, or Brownfield Register (local authority register of previously developed land suitable for housing development).

Local Planning – The Act enhances the powers that allow the Government to step in where local authorities fail to produce local plans for their area.

Self-Build – Support for small builders by placing a duty on local authorities to allocate land to people who want to build their own home.  Local Authorities must keep registers of people seeking land for self-build and custom housebuilding.

Our Final Thoughts

Overall we felt once again that the pressure for housing was overriding any planning strategy (other than the just build and build quickly policy, although the competing interests of developers proves that this is currently not deliverable).  Local transport and employment opportunities are not being taken into consideration and there is no plan to provide infrastructure alongside development.

it also is apparent that the NPPF (national planning policy framework) definition of “sustainability” is poorly defined and open to interpretation as required.

Waverley’s Local Plan Part One should be published next week and will contain the allocated sites for the borough.  Unfortunately we are anticipating that Waverley will want to dump the majority of their housing in Cranleigh and the surrounding villages, with a rural road infrastructure and rural bus service, on flood plains, with an inadequate sewerage system, and a river (Cranleigh Waters) that cannot take any more liquid effluent, simply because the village is situated on “countryside beyond the green belt” and as such has no protection and therefore can be deemed “sustainable”.

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