Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Planning and Housing Decisions Should Be Taken Locally

Powers over planning need to be returned to local communities and the Government's regional and national house building targets need to be scrapped.

This Government has taken centralism to the extreme. It used to be that government would issue planning Guidance. Now, under Labour, they issue planning Statements. Local councils and their democratically elected local councillors are expected to rubber stamp planning diktat from the Labour Government. If they don't tow the line then they face having their decisions being overturned by the bureaucrats at the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol. It is quite wrong that democratically reached decisions by locally elected councillors can be over turned on grounds of design, parking requirements, density and such like.

I can think of nowhere else where this happens. In other countries local government decides planning and housing issues. Local councils have a better understanding what local people want and can be held accountable.

The Government's top down approach to housing is resulting new developments which are all too often small, tightly packed, poorly designed boxes, ugly, grey and grim. New communities should be well designed, centred around community facilities such a local pub and shops and green space. We need greener, healthier cities, however this government is concreting over our playing fields.

We do need more housing. In the south we are under pressure from massive inward migration from the north of England. External migration is also a factor. People are living longer and there are more single households than ever before. Labour are exacerbating the problem, depopulating the north of England, tearing down Victorian terraces. Meanwhile there are 700,000 empty homes in this country. There is plenty of wasteland and plenty of brownfield sites in the north and the midlands but the houses aren't being built there.

Furthermore, devolution of planning powers and housing policy needs to be linked to the reform of local government finance, allowing more of local authority funds to be raised locally, rather than coming from government grants which always come with strings attached. Where new housing means new people in an area, this should mean new local tax revenues. You would imagine that is how it works now. It doesn't though.

It much better to free up local government finance to fund the infrastructure that is needed for new communities, to pay for the new roads and motorway junctions that the government is manifestly failing to provide.

The Government's top down, socialist approach to planning and housing is failing on every level. It is much better to have local solutions to local problems.

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