MPs fear planning hiatus

17 Mar 11
Government plans to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies would leave a vacuum at the centre of the planning system, MPs warned today
By Vivienne Russell

17 March 2010

Government plans to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies would leave a vacuum at the centre of the planning system, MPs warned today.

A report from the Commons communities and local government select committee said the change could have ‘profound social, economic and environmental consequences’ that could persist for years.

Committee chair Clive Betts said RSSs bridged the gap between planning issues determined locally and those defined at national level.

‘We did not pass judgement on the merits of Regional Spatial Strategies,’ Betts said. ‘But we are concerned about the hiatus created by their intended abolition.

‘This is giving rise to an inertia that is likely to hinder development – making it much harder to deliver necessary but controversial “larger than local” facilities – such as waste disposal sites, mineral workings or sites for Gypsies and Travellers. It will also make it more difficult to ensure that our national need for new housing is met.’

On housebuilding, the committee queried the likely success of the New Homes Bonus, which encourages communities to back new housing developments. The MPs said there was little evidence to suggest the bonus would increase housebuilding by up to 13% – the scale ministers predict. They also raised concerns that the bonus scheme could encourage councils to build the wrong kinds of homes in the wrong areas.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said the select committee’s conclusions echoed the NHF’s own concerns.

With 4.5 million people in England in housing need, the priority now must be to ensure the new localised planning system effectively delivers new affordable homes,’ he said.
‘The government must heed the committee’s recommendations to support the robust and consistent assessment of housing need by councils. This will mean providing help for over-stretched planning departments and a stronger obligation for councils to work together to meet the overall housing need in each part of England.’

The committee said ministers should take swift action to bring forward appropriate transitional arrangements before RSSs are abolished. The MPs also want to see the development of a ‘coherent and efficient’ planning system which allows the views of all stakeholders to be heard.

Planning minister Bob Neill said: 'It was under the last government that housebuilding rates fell to their lowest peacetime levels since 1924. Regional targets clearly failed to build the right number of homes in the right places. Top-down targets just alienated the public and undermined support for new housing.

'Under the coalition government’s reforms, councils now have a clear financial incentive to build from the New Homes Bonus. Latest figures from the National Housebuilding Council and from the Office for National Statistics already show a surge of optimism from a construction industry that is beginning to build again.'

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