Catriona Lingwood discusses the Building Futures programme.
It has been almost a year since the Conservative Party first announced its proposed ‘localism’ policies, but as a general election comes ever closer it is an agenda that still divides many in the industry.
No sooner had 2010 got underway than a group of some of Britain’s biggest property developers became the latest to raise concerns about the plans to hand over more power on planning decisions to local authorities.
Building Futures is a coalition of major construction companies including Land Securities and Countryside Properties, so when they argue that the Tories’ plans might stifle development, it’s hard not to sit up and take notice.
The group is lobbying for a national planning framework which would issue guidelines and advice to those making decisions at a local level – with the warning that economic recovery could be hindered if David Cameron’s Green Paper came to pass.
Their belief is that if councillors are given greater powers, they could make crucial planning decisions based on their own instincts. And according to a survey of 515 local councillors they’ve had commissioned, 57 per cent think current housing targets are too high.
Clearly, that is a worrying figure because put simply, if it was left to them – and it would be under the Conservative scheme – fewer new homes would be built.
What was encouraging to see, however, was that the North East was not one of the regions where councillors were most opposed to new homes. That sends out a positive message to everyone and provides yet more hope that this industry can soon recover.
Local councillors are elected to do their best for their constituency and the vast majority of them will always judge any planning application on its own merit. It’s also worth remembering that before decisions even get to the council chamber, inspectors and officers will make recommendations to them.
Only a few weeks ago, I expressed my concerns over the current Government’s £1m Rural Masterplan Fund, where money would be provided for external consultants, rather than consulting with local civil servants. At least this scheme, while far from perfect, means people with knowledge of the area will make key decisions – although I would reiterate even more the need to ensure that local civil sector workers are correctly trained to provide the best advice to the councillors.
Nonetheless, with Building Futures planning to meet shadow local government and planning minister Bob Neill in the near future, it will be interesting to see the outcome.
Submitted on 08.01.10
Author: Catriona Lingwood
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