Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence from Bloor Homes Northwest (ARSS 116)

Regional Spatial Strategy Housing Numbers should be reinstated.

Transitional arrangements should be expedited.

Revisions to the plan system should be enacted as soon as practicable to avoid a policy vacuum.

With the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) the town planning system has been fundamentally altered. Regional Spatial Strategies were introduced as an important component following the 2004 Planning Act. This Act effectively introduced a cascade of development plans from planning policy statements at the National level, Regional Spatial Strategies at the regional level and then the local development framework. I am aware that the legality of the relocation of Regional Spatial Strategies will be considered following a challenge by CALA HOMES.

Within this submission I intend to consider the implications on the house building industry with the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies. Various reports have indicated that the number of houses constructed in the 2009-10 period will be in the order of 120,000 completions. This compares historically to the completion levels of 1923. As a benchmark the Kate Barker Report "Review of the House Building Industry (2004)" indicated broadly that in this period we would need to construct something like 250,000 houses per year in order to meet demand. It is important to point out that this demand is not driven by the house building industry, not driven by the Office of National Statistics, not driven by Local Authorities or indeed Regional Planning Bodies—it is driven by human behaviour. The failure to provide sufficient homes to match demand has a fundamental impact on the economy and the movement of the population throughout the housing stock.

It is noted by recent announcements from the Communities Secretary (Eric Pickles) that this Government has a fundamental commitment to the house building industry. Indeed it is a noted aspiration of the current Government to return Britain to a nation of home builders. However, it is my contention that with the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies and the removal of this important element of the planning process the number of new homes planned and constructed is likely to remain low for the foreseeable future. An immediate and direct impact of the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies has, according to the National Housing Federation resulted in some 85,000 new homes that were planned being cancelled or at the very least held back from production.

Furthermore in the Bedford area, of particular note has been the impact upon plan preparation in the Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Growth Area. Milton Keynes Council has resolved to oppose development of the South West Milton Keynes Strategic Development Area (5,390 new homes).

In short, in this major growth area, despite massive public and private sector investment—plan making to deliver much needed new housing and employment has stalled for the foreseeable future.

At a time when the British economy is slowly emerging from recession this is a great worry to us all. However, in the longer term I am confident that the house building industry will react positively to whatever new planning measures emerge. However, at this time we are in a period of transition. As I have outlined many Local Authorities have delayed work on their emerging local development frameworks and many others are reviewing overall housing requirements in the context of the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies. At the very least this will result in a slow down in construction—at this very critical time—until the replacement arrangements are put in place.

I am aware that it is unlikely that such arrangements will be in place until the latter part of 2011.

In light of this continued uncertainty I would urge the Minister to reinstate the housing numbers from the Regional Spatial Strategies until at the very least a new planning system has been put in place. Failure to do this will exacerbate the already massive under provision of both private and affordable housing and potentially undermine the recovery of the British economy.

I would also urge the Minister to ensure clear transitional arrangements are in place to avoid the policy vacuum that is currently resulting in delays to the planning process. In my view it is all too easy for Local Authorities to delay plan making whilst they await clarity from central government.

A distinct, but related point is that as a result of the changes to the Planning System it seems almost inevitable that there will need to be fundamental change in the structure of the system itself. Any changes should be consulted upon—but enacted quickly to avoid yet more delay.

September 2010

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