Challenging the Tory Planning Regime : Video from a Green Lib Dem Fringe at the Liberal Democrat Conference September 2020
Challenging the Tory Planning Regime
From Green Lib Dem Fringe at the Liberal Democrat Conference September 2020
Transcript and subtitles edited by Stefan Petszaft
shortcode to this page: http://grn.lib.dm/a41dvt
Steve Mason : Hi everyone. Good to see everyone who's here. There's quite a few of you joining this, which is really encouraging to see.
A quick intro really to this, the planning white paper, that's coming through for me is I'm just kind of shocked that the, well I'm not shocked actually that's the silly thing to say. The Conservatives want to disempower communities and reduce the influence of communities and the public into scrutiny of local planning decisions.
I'm actually on our Planning Committee here up in Rydale and we have a good example. Here we have a very contentious issue coming through at the moment and the scrutiny that we can put into this application is huge at the moment but, if the plans go through, they want to remove planning committees from decisions and delegate it to officers. I mean much as I think our officers do a good job, I don't think this is the right thing to do. For me it's the developers' charter almost.
And on the environment I just don't know how we're going to screen any of the assessments that have been necessary for applications; not just the environment but on heritage as well. So you know I just feel we have to make sure that we can empower local democracies so the system works to provide us good quality housing and I don't think there's a problem with the planning system at the moment
I was kind of surprised at the figures that I think of, the delta actually about the LGA basically that, let me read this right, as a million homes still have planning permission but remain unbuilt and that's just scandalous. So you know the capability is there they just don't seem to build them.
I'm now going to hand over to Martin, who's been chairing this meeting. We are waiting for another speaker to come in but we have Adele here as well so Martin over to you.
Martin Horwood: Thank you very much Steve and welcome everybody to this discussion.
We've got, I hope, two speakers lined up. We know Tony Stott from CPRE is in the meeting, as it were, but we are struggling at the moment to get him added to the platform but we've got somebody working on that. In the meantime our first speaker is Adele Norris, who is a councillor in Southwark. She's been a Southwark councillor since 2006 but she's also heavily involved in the LGA.I read here that she's Deputy Chair of the Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board, which sounds like an enormous job at the LGA and she's also involved in development and learning or sharing development and learning for councils at the LGA so I hope she'll bring those learning and communication skills to this meeting as well. Adele, over to you. Do you want to kick us off on the planning reforms as they're called?
Adele Norris Thank you Martin and it will come as no surprise to you that sitting on a board that covers that many topics I am not an expert on all of them; I'm not really an expert on any of them but I do not know a lot particularly about planning actually so the white paper - well just do a little bit of background actually on the current planning process that we've got. Really you know it's not just about a planning committee and a planning application anywhere and it never should. It should always be about where your local plan starts, where you put everything, because the local plan talks about where homes should go but it also talks about where your offices should go, where your retail should go, how people should move around. You should have transport policies in there if you're encouraging car free development.
All of those things come out of your local plan including actually setting aside areas or thinking about how you're going to generate energy. Are you going to have wind farms, solar farms, any kind of combined heat and waste plants, energy plants - all of those kind of things. They all really should be part and parcel of your starting point which is your council's plan for the area so I think the problem is that people tend to get really kind of bound up in this in the housing part of it and it's not surprising because that usually seems to be the thing that government are absolutely hammering over and over the head about. So what the white paper wants is to radically change the way that things are done.
No surprises they want to be, in lots of ways, more top down even though they're selling it as being more bottom up. I'll kind of explain a bit more about that later. I actually want to just very briefly mention before I talk about the white paper itself, which is out for consultation until the end of October, there is another bit of consultation which is the thing that's actually getting people wound up the moment, which is about the housing numbers and if you search it on the website it's called Changes to the Current Planning System. It's the consultation that really fundamentally focuses on the delivery of homes and first up it talks about this new algorithm for housing numbers, which is what everybody's got very excited about...It's a top-down methodology the fundamental flaw in the methodology is it starts with an absolute number of homes that the government and actually as Lib Dems we, I believe, have set a target in our policies for the number of homes that we want to deliver every year. So it starts with this kind of final number and then just has this algorithm, which not being a mathematician I don't understand, but it has an algorithm that then divvies up exactly where those houses should go across the country and of course lots of people are saying crikey we are being told that we have to deliver x number of homes how could we possibly do that. We've got green belt, we've got countryside, we've got protected areas, we've got the sea, we've got all sorts of constraints that mean how on earth are we going to do that? So that's really what is causing a lot of the problems. That's, as I say, separate from the white paper. I just add one caveat here because I think it is important that people respond to that element of it and talk about why that's wrong but my one caveat is if you are in an area where your authority has got a number which is greater than the number that is being suggested by the government don't go straight out and campaign and say haha there you go we never needed all of those homes anyway because hopefully your council had worked out an optimum delivery for the number of homes that your local area needed to meet the needs of your communities, which may not be the case of course particularly if you're not a Lib Dem run authority, but I think just be very cautious of immediately challenging the higher numbers, sorry the lower numbers rather than the higher numbers so that's the first part of that. The second bit is it's introducing something called first homes, which are another form of affordable and I say affordable using their technology not ours. They're not technology they're their description not ours and the proposal is that 25% of the affordable homes that are delivered in any development and I appreciate that there are lots of places actually that don't get any, are called first homes.
This won't apply to you because you're not even able to get affordable homes delivered in some places, but where people are able to get homes delivered the suggestion is that 25% of that affordable home chunk is for first homes which are discounted homes for sale. At the LGA we've kicked back against that and said actually first homes might be great in some areas but in other areas they're still not going to be affordable for many people so we think that, yes, we'll think about first homes as something to throw into the pot in terms of affordable housing provision but we don't want a 25% quota set, so that's where we've kicked back on that. Thirdly, see Martin you were wondering whether or not I'd fill up the time if we couldn't get the other speaker in.
Martin -We'll be a little bit more flexible for you.
Adele - I've even got the one to the white paper yet. So the third thing, but this is important, you see this bit and it does end next week so the third thing is the proposal to raise the number of homes in a development to 40 or 50 before you can ask for any affordable housing. Currently if your development is more than ten homes you can legitimately ask for them to meet your affordable housing requirements but what the government is suggesting is that it gets to 40 or even 50 before anybody has to provide any affordable housing. This, in fact, might just render the second bit about the first homes that irrelevant anyway because nobody's going to be getting any affordable houses.. One of the things that people, of course, are worried about is that even on larger sites it might become quite attractive to just divide up all of your plots.
(Oh we've got Tony - good I don't have to talk the whole time yes, so welcome) So that that's the concern - you know that on small sites you won't get the money but also that larger sites will get subdivided to get around it. Then the last one is about permission in principle which is something that already exists but they want to make that again available to larger sites. But I mean for me the whole question about all of this is you've got a white paper that you're consulting on and you're talking about radically reforming the planning system overall. So why not just leave it as it is at the moment? Why are you doing this now? Why not just wait and sort everything out all in one go?
So that's the immediate stuff. So the white paper As I said, consulting until the end of October and in the white paper of course it talks about all, you know, communities are going to be involved at the beginning. They're going to have all of this engagement, it's all going to be online and digitized and easily accessible. They're going to cut down all of the flannel and all the policies and all that stuff that goes with it and we'll have local communities sitting around the table coming up with the design guide for what they want to see in their areas and all the developers have to do is come along and build what the communities want and it's all going to be beautiful and it's all going to be environmentally friendly and it's all going to be wonderful.
I don't think I need to say to an intelligent audience if it's not going to happen like that and I don't understand why the government think it is going to happen like that. I think particularly in terms of the environmental cost of Green Liberal Democrats in terms of the environmental issues around this but they get watered down. They want to do away with some of the environmental controls that we currently have and it's really interesting because other departments in the government of course - we've got the environment plan and we've got the environment bill that's going through and there are all these other environmental plans and bills that are going through alongside of this and yet this doesn't seem to really kind of incorporate or embrace any of those so there is a really big concern about how local councils will manage to keep on top of the environmental issues. And then, of course, the democratic accountability - if there are no more planning committees.
Now it doesn't actually say there'll be no more planning committees I think there will be some occasions when planning applications still need to be processed in the same way, in a planning applications way. I personally don't agree with the idea that everything should come to planning committee. I think that's incredibly cumbersome. I think as a planning councillor I have quite a hefty workload already and I don't know where we find people who have the time to sit on all the planning committees. But having said that I am very concerned about how on earth local authorities are going to get everybody so engaged at the early stages because, let's be honest, most people only look at planning when it's affecting them, when it's an application and when they suddenly go "oh my goodness can't do that". How on earth do they expect that we're going to get everybody signed up at the beginning to talk about a plan and to feed into the design, I've no idea. It's a really ill thought out paper, it has no real explanation of how it's going to achieve this wonderful new world of everybody having certainty, the developers having certainty, the community having certainty and will know from day one exactly what's going to be built, how big it's going to be, what it's going to look like. I really can't see how that is going to happen. It's all incredibly vague.
My one thing I would end on though in terms of responding to this is I don't want us to be known as the party of nimbyism. I want us not to be just saying no we don't like it, no we don't want it. I want us to be a party who is saying we care about the environment, we care about our communities and the way they develop. We understand that there are future generations who need housing, we understand that we need to make provision for jobs for energy provisions, all of those things and we've thought about it and we've come together and we've come up with a plan. We don't like your ideas but here are our ideas and we think they'll give a much better outcome. Thank you
Martin Thank you very much Adele and welcome to Tony onto the panel. Adele has just been talking us through the two consultations that are going on, the longer term bigger changes to the planning system then also these other changes like the housing needs assessment numbers which are being handed down now, which in some cases seem to be, and somebody's just said this on the chat as well, strangely actually in our urban area don't seem to have made a huge amount of difference from the algorithm but in some rural areas it seems to be 50% more, which is quite a strong something they're going to really struggle with and then these other changes to the affordability rules which I think you were quite right to identify. Certainly we've got an area in my own ward where we've got something like 350 houses expected and at the moment the rule is a development of 10 doesn't have to have an affordable housing element. Well you can't break down 350 houses into units of 10 that's just completely impractical but you might be able to break it down into five phases of or seven phases of 50 and then get away with no affordable housing at all and we're losing green fields. Well we'll take that hit if we get some affordable housing out of it but not for executive homes, that's a really dodgy idea and of course there are also some other changes that they've done simultaneously about permitted development rights and so on. So CPRE is formerly known as the Campaign To Protect Rural England now rebranded, I think, as The Countryside Charity and we have Tony Stott here who must be reading all these things in enormous detail and developing huge expertise on them very fast so I hope you'll share with us CPRE's take on these changes and also perhaps you'll ask for us, as politicians, how we should be responding to them. So Tony can I hand over to you?
Tony Stott. Thank you. Just to say who I am.
I'm currently, regional chair for the East Midlands, I'm a volunteer. I'm also a volunteer in Leicestershire, I'm a trustee of Leicestershire and I'm actually leading on the planning reforms as I'd led it actually on a major campaign that we had about an expressway around Leicester so my view is perhaps as CPRE tends to come from more of a local end of the process rather than necessarily the national perspective but what I've got to say will reflect most of the national perspective with little bits of insight, if you like, from the locality.
Where Adele finished about being positive, I think there is quite a debate within CPRE .there are many things we don't like but we also feel we ought to be positive as well. Certainly I mean cpre with that rebranding that Martin talked about has tried to be a much more positive organization in terms of the vision for the countryside, the importance of the countryside rather than just saying no houses. CPRE has never been actually against all development. I mean if you go back to the beginning of the history of CPRE, which is 1926, it's been about how you can manage development and balance up the environment. It wasn't put in those terms back then but the countryside with development of things like ribbon development in the in the 1930s was about trying to find a way of having the right sort of development in the right place and that, if you like, it is still, if you like, a motto of CPRE - right development in the right place and that would certainly apply to housing. The right housing in the right place.
But in order to promote the things that Adele was talking about and we as CPRE are talking about in terms of promotion and protection and use of the countryside and green space is the importance of those responding to the climate emergency, nature emergency these all require, in our view, a democratic and accountable planning system so in a sense I will begin by talking about how we feel about the loss of democracy because that that certainly one of the things and it in our view it's absolutely crucial that there is accountability, scrutiny and the ability to engage in plans that shape your area so that in a sense that's fundamental.
Yes the plan, the white paper document particularly says oh well we're going to have more engagement. The reality is, I think, rather different and Crispin Truman, who's the CEO of CPRE, in a statement some time ago said well actually what we're having is perhaps over 50% cut in the engagement so it's something quite substantial and if we look, for instance, at the opportunities for a local voice in this great new plannings white local plan system, the first phase they will invite for areas of growth just nothing about having that scrutinized or looked at by the public. This major stage we have in the present local plans sort of where you consult on the plan you do a draft and consult. That's going to disappear and for the final phase you're going to have six weeks just as they submit to the inspector and to government a plan and then what gets discussed is at the discretion of the inspector. So this great thing is more engagement which we would like in local plan stage. The problem is that not enough people engage at that stage, as Adele was saying. So that clearly isn't but actually what's also important in terms of engagement is actually, and I come back to this later, is what the output of the plan is in terms of what is the nature of what it's doing so things like permissions in principle is an issue.
So what we've got is a loss of opportunities for people to engage and there's the whole area of development management as well but that's accompanied by a centralization process effectively where you've got a process either direct central control or far less capacity and that if you go to a rules-based system that's perhaps inevitable. So we can see that central control clearly in the housing requirements because it's now going to be compulsory. We can see that in some of the requirements in relation to affordable housing and we can see the loss of discretion in development management and what we can see there perhaps even the local nuance that might be in development management is going to be very difficult to put in and from the public's point of view and from the point of view of group cycle for us it's going to be very difficult to influence that process or even to scrutinize that process so I think that actually there's a fundamental contradiction or tension within the white paper and that is between wanting to try and be efficient to speed up, simplify and be democratic and then I'm not sure that tension in some of the things that have been written has been discussed enough and has come out in the discussion but personally it seems to me it's a central element of the plan in the government's proposal. So lots of democracy key housing figures.
Well we seem to be still going round in circles in this one. We are certainly greatly exercised about the numbers and the new standard methodology that's being proposed and the results actually in some areas are totally perverse. I mean you take Leicestershire as an example there's a cut of 35% in the city's requirement and 104% increase in the requirement for the districts and in some districts the increase in requirement is actually over 200% so there are obviously going to be no enormous consequences if it carries forward and I'm not sure that it's actually going to produce what the government wants or what we want in terms of more affordable housing, because of the affordability criteria Harborough district where there've been massive increases in prices over the years but which is relatively rural. Do you want a large number of houses in that part of Leicestershire or do you want them elsewhere? So that there are all sorts of issues if you like round how that works out and it's not just in Leicestershire but Leicestershire is the one I've been working on so it's the one basically I know. If the city's requirement is less is there going to be so much emphasis on regeneration and on the use of brownfield sites but if the districts outside in the countryside are going to be required to bring in major developments where are they going to put them, what are going to be the connections with transport? What we've been up to, certainly as a branch, we've been arguing that what we see happening in in Leicestershire is that there will be car dependent developments out in the countryside and given the nature of the county it will be difficult to have transport into the centre so we think they'll be poorly located; they will be dependent on cars. Every time we've seen efforts supposedly to have new developments further out and dependent on buses; they don't seem to work very well so I think that all that it is, in a sense, an effect on the countryside but it's also a climate change consequence if you're dependent on cars and it also has an impact on nature in the countryside.
So the housing figures are a matter of massive debate within CPRE. Yes we have to have some sort of requirements and we need we certainly want to see more much more emphasis on affordable housing and certainly CPRE has worked with Shelter and with various rural housing organizations about trying to have more rural housing. Then there are the zones proposals, about which perhaps there's a lot of uncertainty how's that going to work? And that's a concern.
Martin - Tony, we're going to have to come to questions quite soon.
Tony - So okay I'm going to draw some conclusions major points left into of the zones growth. Now some I think I heard at one point, you were there too, there was discussion about what happens where you've got lots of constraints in National Parks ANOBs etc but there's also a problem with areas where we don't have those and again my example would be Leicestershire where we don't have any of those things so the countryside in a sense potentially is open to development and indeed the County Council would like to do that so what is the value of the protect areas if you are going to have to in this case find more houses in rural areas, in countryside. There is the government in one place said well you'll be able to decide which areas you protect in the protect. While some will obviously be because they're national designations but if you've got to decide to put development in the countryside to a mandatory requirement level of requirement how much option are you going to have to designate areas that aren't nationally designated as protect areas locally? So I think there's a real issue there and I think that it exercises some CPRE branches because they're in that position. For other branches the problem is that they've got too much of nationally designated areas so where do they put what they need to fulfil on the remainder? To a certain extent I feel that it's a residual category. Anything and everything going that isn't growth or renewal goes into it and I think there needs to be probably a lot more definition of what is going to be within that and how it really is going to protect. So affordable houses we want more of other issues. CPRE wants to see better design and has been involved in various exercises on that. I think to some extent what's there is very aspirational and probably not deliverable as proposed. Infrastructure levy interesting questions - will it be deliverable, will it actually allow for more affordable housing, will it allow for more sustainable transport. So a whole range of issues and I could go on for a lot longer but I clearly need to let the people have a say.
Martin - Thank you, and just on one of your last points there about which designations will councils protect I want to put in a word for a Lib Dem policy that I had a hand in instigating which was the Local Green Space Designation, which was for green spaces that are important to communities, where you don't need to find a great crested newt or a landscape painter to say it's important. Certainly we've used it a lot in in my patch. We've got 17 of these urban green spaces and they're, I hope, being used by hundreds of local authorities around the country but they weren't on the list of the ones that were in the protect category in the white paper so I hope CPRE picks that up because I think that's a really important designation.
Tony - So it's the local green space?
Martin - Yes, and it's in the national planning policy framework. It was introduced by the much maligned coalition which I still have a bit of a soft spot for, at times.
Anyway could we uh get Steve Bolter onto the panel. He is as far as I can tell, if I'm interpreting the technology correctly, the first person to ask a question and I've just been noticing in the chat actually some extraordinary percentages of increases in these local housing assessment need numbers. I mean I thought 50% was bad but we've had people posting increases of two and three hundred percent which and if these are in rural areas represented by Tory MPs I can't help thinking there's another algorithm crisis coming for the Tories.
Tony - Indeed there is from talking to them.
Martin - Good, okay, let's hear from Steve. Steve your question please.
Steve Bolter - Hello I wasn't really posing it as a question but as an observation. I know that in rural areas the most popular form of heating is oil. Some of us use liquid petroleum gas so that's another fossil fuel, not quite as filthy as oil but nevertheless a fossil fuel and we have in our local authority already a requirement in the plan that dwellings or buildings that are in fact in rural areas where there is no natural gas supply should be especially environmentally friendly with measures for capturing solar energy and or sorry renewable energy, but in fact the office has never enforced this. We get to it before our parish council planning applications with lovely south facing rooves with artificial chimneys making them unsuitable for solar panels, for example, and the problem is that they tend to say oh well that's building regulations. Well if the permission has been granted and you've already got the building built in a way to make it not suitable for renewable energy capture it is a bit late when it goes to building reg standards. The actual consideration of how environmentally friendly the building will be should be actually made before it's given any permission at all.
Martin - Remember Lib Dem councils like Cambridge who tried to enforce more environmental regulations on new development and were frankly told they couldn't do it. So I wonder if we should bring in just a couple more people first and then we'll come back to Adele and Tony. Can we bring in Peter Asterland for gender balance? We probably ought to bring in the indomitable Fran Oburski as the other first two so if we could bring in Peter and Fran to ask their questions or make their comments as well and then we'll come back to Tony and Adele. Is that magically going to it happen it doesn't look as though it's magically happening immediately so Adele or Tony do you want to come back on these points on enforcement and the environmental measures Adele?
Adele - Yeah we've got a time in Southwark and there's always an excuse why they can't do this, they can't do that and it can't be passive house because it's a tower block and you can't do passive house that you can't put solar panels on because there's no space and blah de blah de blah. I have to say in Southwark where we don't run the council they have got into the habit of setting up a Section 106 fund so that people can make a payment to offset where they're not meeting their carbon targets. Now having said that they are meeting part l of the building regulations 35% reduction in the carbon targets but they're not carbon neutral and so they're paying this kind of bung to the council, which of course the council likes because they're building up a nice little pot of money that they can use for I know, well they haven't decided we've been collecting it for a long time. They haven't actually decided what they're going to spend it on yet but in theory they could use it for planting more trees or changing all the street lights to LEDs you know those kinds of things. So the council quite likes it, it gives them a pot of money but as I say every planning committee that I sit on that's all very well but we've got yet another development that is not sustaining itself in the long term so no matter how much money you pay into a fund to plant more trees we're going to have a building that's not as energy efficient as it needs to be and I think viability is probably (important). I mean, I've heard that "oh it's very expensive to do that" and "because we haven't got (??? The resources) because of course I think it was Ed Davey who had the carbon reduction measures proposed that they didn't go through with in 2016 and I normally know off the top of my head what I'm talking about but, Martin, you might remember what they are or Tony or Steve? There was something that was supposed to come into effect in policy in 2016 and the government said
Martin - all new homes had to be carbon neutral. That was the one dirthed by the Tories as soon as we were out of office
Adele - Exactly. It does mean that you know it is difficult and for the local authorities as well if it isn't in national policy then locally you could ask for it but if applicants go to appeal because they refused them on that basis then an appeal inspector will say well the national policies don't require it so it's incredibly frustrating and I think we are going backwards from this not forwards which is a real shame.
Martin - Yes Tony would you like to comment quickly?
Tony - I'm not going to have much expertise on this but I would have thought that if things are in national policy and that's where you need to get them in first otherwise…… Yes I can understand what Adele's saying, that it's very difficult to get local authorities to follow it so that it needs to be in planning policy, national planning policies and I think we perhaps need to have a slightly wider view of what planning covers in terms of going forward with the climate emergency and so on and it's persuading government ultimately to do that. If that happens then I think there's more chance that local authorities will follow.
Martin - and one of the points made by our local officers is that the whole change to a zoning system especially if you've got fewer or lesser planning applications to process is that this puts far more onus on officers to enforce, which is the case in some European countries but it's a much more challenging situation for officers certainly than they are used to.
We seem to have lost Peter Astle in the process.
Steve Mason - Sorry Mike that's coming out I think as well in this one.
Martin - Can I just say to Jason, can I just say to our technical support to bring in Fran Oburski if we can but Steve go ahead
Steve Mason - I think as well we need to point out the reforms on the environment here and Steve mentioned about low-carbon housing. There's very much detail in relation to the net zero commitment and relation to the Climate Change Act but it's very unclear where the low carbon build standards will be set nationally, which would align this rule-based process but also you know authorities can have the option of introducing standards via local codes. It's really unclear in these proposals so for me I just think we should all be saying to our councils respond in these matters to be honest. Sorry, back to Chair that's all I wanted to say.
Adele - Actually can I just respond, so in the white paper I think it is all about the policies will be national and there's very little scope for local policies that could boost this up as far as I can see so it's definitely got to be done right at the top
Martin - and it seems to me these national changes seem to be far more about process and giving a freer hand to developers rather than anything on the environment as far as i can see.
Fran welcome, a familiar face in conferences and now online so would you like to ask your question or make your comment?
Fran Oborski - Well I'm the cabinet member for economic regeneration planning and capital investment on Wyre Forest and what I really want to know is what other people are doing to get their Tory councillors to feel as angry as we do because actually we've had pretty good success on Wyre Forest. I put forward, well obviously the officers did most of the work, and I had to put it forward at Cabinet attacking these government proposals and I ended up with the leader of the Conservative group and his main planning spokesman having to say in public we totally agree with Fran, which is really good and we are hoping to have a joint cross-party lobby of our Conservative MP Mark Garnier to tell him just how disastrous this will be. So we're lucky in that we're at the stage of a local plan review about to go to public inquiry so the horrors of the new housing numbers aren't going to hit us but the rest of the garbage does and we'll never see an affordable house built in a village again if they stick to this development of 40 or 50. But I really want to know if other councils and councillors are having the same success as we are because we are finding Tory councillors who are keen on planning absolutely loathe these proposals.
Martin - I wonder can we just bring in Joe Regan and Richard Waller who are in the queue as well. Just while we get an initial reaction maybe we should get the politicians to respond to that. Maybe Stephen, Adele to reply on what we should be doing to put the Tory government locally on the spot.
Steve Mason - just quickly. What we did in our council, I took the motion that ALD submitted and I turned it into a personal email to our policy and resources and to the Chair of the lead and the Leader of the Council and basically they just they got an email back saying oh we're going to include all your comments into our consultation as a local council so it wasn't actually realized it was a LibDem motion to conference. I hadn't actually told them that but yes I mean it's quite an easy thing to do. We only have two Lib Dem councillors on our council and I think with our local conservatives just tell them they're going to lose a bit of power. They don't like that they really don't like that.
Martin - That's true enough.
Fran -I'm in essentials, we don't have any stories in Southwark, we're Labour fighting. We don't have any in Central London but they do obviously in outer London boroughs that we run like Sutton, Richmond and Kingston have Tory MPs and they've got Tory Councillors but we don't have any so I can't answer that question.
Martin - Well we've still got a couple of Tories you know until the next election although we're a bit of a one-party state in some ways and I think actually you know politically this is a gift to us and a real embarrassment for them when they start to explain to some of their wealthier constituents that this will allow all the new permitted development rights and others will allow much more freedom to people to build what they like unless they're breaking some design code in the next door garden. I think that's going to go down like a lead balloon with many of the Tory voters so actually maybe I should ask here is there anything good about this? I mean I'm under constant criticism when I talk about environmental measures to protect green space, especially from younger people who want to hear about how many more homes we're going to provide and where we're going to provide them. You know we can't always be on the side of people who want to protect spaces, we've got to be on the side of people who want to build homes and provide housing for young people especially. So is there anything good from that point of view in these proposals, Tony?
Tony - There could be I think if some of the affordable housing things are changed a bit. I think the government is wanting to have more houses and the 300,000 is clearly their target. The problem is I think the way they've done it is provoking if you like deissent. Where I think if, for instance, and this is something I've thought of rather than necessarily a national CPRE view, if in doing your targets you were to say that there should be so many affordable houses as part of the target. So the requirement might be a certain number of houses but you're required to provide, and it's not easy to specify a certain number of affordable houses and that then raises the question of what that affordable housing might be in terms of whether it's purchased or it's rented or it's joint share - the whole range of things but I think if that was to be done then the debate is going to change from just being we don't want large numbers of houses.
There was a report which CPRE was involved with that suggested that there are about 145,000 affordable houses required every year and some of the debate within CPRE at the moment is about how important that figure could be. You know are we really asking for a range of affordable housing and I think in part answer to your question, Martin, perhaps you need to swing the debate.
Martin - A bit more than a million homes have planning permissions. Our local officers did some stats on the four largest house builders. They are Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, Barrett and Belleway and at the end of 2018 they had permission to build an average of 41,000 houses each. By the end of the year they built only 15,000 so I'm afraid these companies have already got permission to build far more than they're doing. It's more about the crazy way our housing market has developed.
Malcolm Brown is waiting in the queue so if we can bring in Malcolm to ask a final question and then it's already ten to five. I feel like we could go on for hours but we'll have to come to the final closing comments at that point, I think
Steve Mason -well maybe we can organize another meeting on Green Live then at some point in the next few weeks.
Martin - Yes it'll have to be three or four hours long I think. I feel we're only just getting warmed up on all this stuff but a lot of political risk for the Tories we've identified I think, which is positive in a worrying situation with these….
Steve Mason - County elections next year, as well.
Martin - Absolutely, so do we have Malcolm yet? Is he about to come in?
Adele - Just on this is there anything good? There ought to have been something good in the idea that communities are going to be much more involved at the beginning because actually I talked a lot about local plans in many areas that aren't run by Liberal Democrats. Our Liberal Democrat councils are great at this but involving local people in making the local plan is not great so in theory if that worked as well as they suggest that it would work then that would be a benefit. Of course the downside is that you're then stuck with this kind of the plans as they are fixed. If it worked it would give certainty if the local community all got involved and sat around the table and decided that they wanted to see a seven-story block of flats on that site, they wanted it to have brick facing and they wanted it to have a double two bedroom three bedroom one bedroom whatever and that's what the developers built once they agreed to do the build. They got on with it then, wow, that sounds like fun
Martin - still respecting neighbourhood plans which is a local bottom-up thing that again was introduced under the coalition. That in some ways, I think, the idea of stronger design codes although I know it's controversial maybe positive as well but as you say if local people are involved it's stronger but for those of us who've just been involved in well more than a decade of developing a local plan that's just been adopted to be told we've now got to change it all within the next two years is frankly a bit soul destroying.
Do we have Malcolm?
St Mason - I think if Malcolm's listening he needs to click his sharing capability on his settings.
Martin - Yeah I'm going to do a final call for Malcolm Brown on the final question but otherwise I think we'll have to just come for a bit of wrapping up from Tony and Adele and then I'll come back Steve to close the meeting. So Tony would you like to draw any final conclusions?
Tony - Yes I've perhaps concentrated a bit on the negative side in the sense of things that are wrong but I think there are nuggets in there that if developed could actually be quite useful because at the end of the day CPRE is not saying the planning system's perfect but there are things that can be done to improve it. I think the way in which information is conveyed, the digitalization, there's quite a bit of potential there. It depends how it's done and the same with design. Their aspirations there as you were saying Martin in the sense it depends how it's done so I think there are a couple of potentially good things there and certainly within CPRE we're debating what bits we think are ones that you could say to the government well if you were to develop this, this would be good but equally there are things we're saying well no you need to go back to the drawing board and start again.
Martin - So particularly I think the consensus seems to be where you know where we're good on design or maybe good on some of these elements of the changes it's very light on the environment and very light on democracy.
Tony - Yes I would agree with that.
Martin - Adele would you like to give us your thoughts?
Adele - Yes, I think I think as I've said it's a great theory that we'll have everybody involved in all of those things. In reality I can't see how it's going to work in practice and just one of the things that we didn't talk about was in terms of delivering affordable housing . Under the new system there won't be any section 106 obligation to deliver affordable housing there will just be one flat fee infrastructure levy that is taken off the top so as with the current community infrastructure levy 25% of that will go to the community to spend in neighbourhood plan areas and the rest will go to the local authority and out of that pot they have to do the infrastructure, the affordable housing - they have to do all of those things. The white paper suggests that that councils will get more money as a result of doing it that way than they currently do overall. I'm not convinced and I've yet to meet anybody who is convinced.
I'll just say one last thing about social housing in particular. The government basically needs to be the ones who build it we shouldn't be having to rely on developers to include the affordable housing in their developments particularly since they can wriggle out of it at so many opportunities. We should have, I mean, a lot of people are now building their own council homes but the government should be plowing large amounts of money into building the affordable housing themselves and not leaving it to what is clearly a dysfunctional housing market because, let's be honest, price wise you know Airbnb, buy to let, all of those things, which are completely skewing the market so yes just developers would be my point.
Martin - I would absolutely echo that as well, Adele, more power and resources for councils to buy and build social and affordable houses that are on our housing waiting list especially in the more affluent areas where it's increasingly impossible to even get on the bottom rung of the housing ladder.
So okay everybody who's watching I hope this has been a really interesting session and you've got two consultations out on these sort of changes to the current planning system on housing assessed need and the critical issue of affordable housing thresholds so please either respond yourselves or get your councils to respond and then these bigger changes on the planning system also get out simultaneously to consultation where we want to see a lot more about the environment and a lot more about democracy but plenty to get our teeth into as local campaigners as well as a national level.
So just remains for me to say thank you to Green Liberal Democrats for organizing this and hand back to Green Lib Dems' Steve Mason.
Steve Mason - Well I think you've closed the meeting rather well there Martin to be honest. My only additional thing would be to say that at 6 45pm tonight our fourth fringe will be on Carbon Pricing, which should be an interesting conversation and debate between emissions trading systems and carbon tax. I'll definitely drop into that one and of course we have Dr Jane Goodall joining us. I think Monday is the right time but it's obviously in the fringe listings.
That's the last session we had with Jane, which was really good at Green LibDem conference and she's really engaging. Monday 12 noon. Thank you Jason and so I'd like to say thanks everyone and make sure you respond back to this consultation and if you've got any questions there's a couple of people that you can email.
Martin - [Music] Right we we have somebody's now put their hand up to come in. You have about 30 seconds if Martin Life can be brought in to make what will be I think the last comment in the meeting but if you want to make a very quick comment we'll try and squeeze you in.
?? I'll press go so that's okay to share this panel let's see if we can get in.
Martin - We were in the really illiberal situation of possibly finishing a minute early. Well I mean at this point there's usually somebody from the conference staff waving at you vociferously from the back of the room then you'd get out so this is a different environment.
Steve Mason -I mean my final positive I think I have found for developers is obviously the digitization of this will make it a lot cheaper for applications so that'll be a benefit and more digitization will get rid of some nonsenses. I don't want to cast aspersions against my own planning officers but having been told on one of something I've submitted that I had to submit it at a certain scale and I'd submitted an electronic document so I just would just click 200% and it'll be at the right scale. You know these are meaningless concepts some of them now still left in the system but anyway let's see.
Oh that's a shame we don't seem to have got Martin in.
Adele - Can I just do a plug for him, I hope it doesn't clash with any GLD sessions but tomorrow Pippa Hailings from South Cams who was due to speak in this session and had to change it and Giles Archibald from South Lakeland and myself and I think it's Wera Hobhouse. We'll be talking about "So you've declared a climate emergency now what?" Looking at best practice actually from Lib Dem authorities and non-Lib Dem authorities I believe we'll be using one of Steve's examples in there as well so just showcasing what can be done at a local government level in relation.
Martin - sounds like a very good value session. All right, thank you everybody thank you to all the people who logged in and listened to this and took part and it's over and out from Green Lib Dems. Thank you very much.
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