September 9th 2020
At the beginning of August the Secretary of State for Local Government, Robert Jenrick, published his Planning White Paper, a document billed as “The most radical shake-up of planning law for 70 years”.To be fair, our planning system is archaic, obstructive and in need of reform. It is bound up in far too much red tape and people who have travelled look on with amazement as in France, for example, roads and railways are built in short order while in Britain it takes years to widen a short stretch of motorway or turn the link from the Port of Dover to the M2 from a cart track into a modest dual carriageway! Nevertheless our “Green and Pleasant Land” is geographically much smaller than many states with comparable population and if we are not to cover the whole of rural England in housing and tarmac then we need to proceed with a degree of care.
In his Foreward to the White Paper the Prime Minister says “Let`s make the system work for all of us. And let`s take big, bold steps so that we in this country can finally build the homes we all need and the future we all want to see” and he wants to “make it harder for developers to dodge their obligations to improve infrastructure and opens up housebuilding to more than just the current handful of massive corporations” All of which is fine except that the “massive corporations” are very adept and not providing the schools and hospitals and doctors` surgeries and roads that are needed to support the thousands of new houses that Mr. Johnson wants to “build, build, build”. Neither do they like using penny-parcels of brownfield sites that are proportionately expensive to build upon when there are acres of green fields just awaiting the arrival of the bulldozers
Mr Jenrick adds in his own Foreward that “We will build environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks close at hand, where tree-lined streets are the norm and where neighbours are not strangers”. The problem with that is that in the case of East Kent, and I believe much of the Home and Shire Counties, the land designated for these “homes with green spaces and new parks close at hand” is already green space, agricultural land and often tree-lined! Mr Jenrick has made much of “protecting the Green Belt” but scant attention is paid to the acres of top grade agricultural land that we are told on the one hand we are going to need to reduce food-miles travelled and increase self-sufficiency while at the same time including that land in Local Plans for housing development to accommodate not homes where “neighbours are not strangers” but a dumping-ground for the housing problems of Inner-London Boroughs.
The Secretary of State has said that he wants to `cut red tape but not standards`. Giving automatic `Permission in principle` to not only the building of schools and hospitals but shops, offices and houses, militates against that grand proposal. The whole of Britain will, if the White Paper is implemented unamended, be split into three types of land: areas designed for `growth` and those designated as for `renewal` or `protection`. There is, though, precious little `protection` offered to farmland in this document. There is also very little consideration afforded to the risks of building upon flood-plains or above the aquifers that parts of the country rely upon for their water supplies . Nor is there any indication of how, when and where the new reservoirs that will be need to supply all of these new homes will be built nor, in the light of trillions of pounds of Covid-debt, how they will be paid for. If Boris The Builder really wants to stimulate housing construction then he can make a start by requiring developers with landbanks and planning consents on brownfield sites in their back pockets to utilise the space for a million homes already approved by the authorities before permitting any more housing on the green agricultural lungs of the Garden of England.