National Trust statement on the government’s Housing White Paper

Ingrid Samuel, historic environment director at the National Trust, said: “We hope this White Paper is a sign that the Government is shifting away from blaming the planning system for the shortage of new housing, and is getting more resources into over-stretched council planning teams.

“Indeed, planning permission has been granted on land for more than a million new homes in the last five years, yet 600,000 new builds have been delivered over the same period. There is a clear need for the Government to change its focus to assist developers in building these homes, and to come up with new models if the industry cannot deliver.

“We’re also pleased that Ministers have put to bed rumours about a weakening of Green Belt protections, and are prioritising brownfield development. This should take place alongside a strengthened focus on heritage and good design, and continued protections for nature and valued landscapes from insensitive development. Good planning is key to finding the best places for new homes, pushing up housing quality, and securing community support.

“We will, however, be looking carefully at the Government’s formula for calculating housing needs. It would be a backwards step if it forces councils to allocate land in sensitive landscapes, and doesn’t make the most of more appropriate sites for housing elsewhere in the region.”

ENDS

National Trust and LGiU survey shows lack of democracy in local planning system

A survey of over 1,200 ward councillors in England, carried out by the Local Government Information Unit, and commissioned by the National Trust, reveals councillors’ view that the planning system works in the interests of developers over councils and local communities.

The survey found that:

  • Over half of councillors say that sites that are not in line with the Council’s plan are being approved for housing in their area;
  • There are also concerns about Green Belt release and the loosening of the planning system through the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office to residential use conversion, barn conversions and other changes of use;
  • Councillors also have concerns about the under-resourcing of planning teams.

In debates on the future of the planning system the views of councillors are often overlooked – and yet, as local decision-makers, and an important link with local communities, they have an essential role to play in ensuring development is sensitive to the needs of an area.

Key survey findings

  • 72% of councillors say that the system is too weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities;
  • Half of councillors say sites that are not in line with the local plan are being approved for new housing;
  • Half of councillors believe planning departments are not adequately resourced;
  • 58% of councillors with Green Belt in their area think that their council will allocate Green Belt land for housing in the next five years;
  • The National Planning Policy Framework does not appear to be having the positive impact it was intended to have on design quality – with only 18% of councillors feeling design has improved since the NPPF was drawn up, and only 12% of councillors think that the loosening of planning restrictions has had a positive effect.

Housing White Paper

There are concerns the new Housing White Paper, expected later this month, could make matters worse, if it sets rigid housing numbers for local plans which don’t take account of local factors such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

As the Government puts the final touches to the Housing White Paper, the National Trust and LGiU hope that Ministers will take a number of sensible steps to improve the confidence that councillors have in the way the planning system works, including:

  • More resources for Local Planning Authorities to help get local plans in place;
  • Stronger Government backing for councils setting design standards;
  • A smart approach to meeting housing need which allows councils to recognise local constraints and focuses development in the most appropriate places.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGiU, said: “The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing communities to help shape the physical structure of the places they live. Councillors are the most important link between communities and that system. Our survey with the National Trust shows that many councillors feel that this democratic tool is at risk of being undermined.”

Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the National Trust, said:“It’s now almost 5 years after the Government’s planning framework was adopted, so it’s worrying that councillors feel it hasn’t delivered the localism that was promised. If ministers are serious about Local Plans being at the heart of the planning system, then they should invest in council planning teams and use the Housing White Paper to give them the tools to deliver good quality housing in the right places.”

National Trust responds to proposed changes to the planning system

Commenting on the government’s proposed changes to the planning system, Rick Hebditch, External Affairs Director at the National Trust, said:

“The planning system is not a barrier to a productive society, it is a key tool to help deliver one. We recognise the need to build more housing so we want to see every council with a local plan in place to deliver those homes. But local authorities have lost more than 40% of their planning team budgets in recent years so it will be hard for them to rise to this challenge while facing the threat of further sanctions with no offer of more support from central government.

“Local plans can also put local communities in the driving seat and facilitate good quality, well designed development in the right places. Today’s announcement on overriding councils and removing the planning approval process on brownfield land appears to do the opposite.

“The commitment to retain the Green Belt and prevent sprawl is, however, welcome.”

ends

 

The National Trust’s response to Labour’s house-building proposals

We welcome that Sir Michael Lyons’ review does not propose a further shake up of national planning policies, and recognises that many of the problems with undersupply of housing lie with the market rather than failures of the planning system.

“We agree that the nation needs more homes, and will look carefully at proposals for housing growth areas and garden cities and suburbs. It is critical that we choose the right places to put new housing, and involve communities through the local planning process to get genuinely sustainable development.

“We hope that Labour focuses on Sir Michael’s proposals to support the plan-led system rather than policies to take planning powers away from local councils.”

National Trust comment on garden cities call

Commenting on the call by Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister, to build new garden cities, Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the National Trust, said:

“We are strong supporters of the local planning system, so when the Deputy Prime Minister voices his support for large scale new development we welcome his commitment to ensuring that decisions will be locally-led.  

“Nevertheless, the major challenge for Government will be to find the sites that have local support, are in the right location and on the right sort of land for this kind of development.

“The National Trust believes that land is a precious resource and must be used and managed sustainably to produce the greatest public benefit.

“As a nation we must be careful to safeguard the productive capability of land for future generations across a range of areas: water, carbon, soils, biodiversity, development, recreation, culture and heritage, food.

“Any development on this kind of scale will need to respect this fact if it is to deliver the kinds of benefits Mr Clegg talks about, without destroying the countryside.

“We welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment to mixed use developments which support integrated transport infrastructure and urban green space, and built to the highest energy conservation standards. This should be the level of commitment we seek to achieve within all our towns, cities and villages too.

“Like everyone with an interest in this area, we will look at the promised prospectus carefully when it’s published.”