Speaking in the Westminster Hall debate on planning last week, Wera Hobhouse criticised Government proposals to remove local input into development applications as “incomprehensible”.
She highlighted the importance of empowering local communities to shape housing and development in their own areas.
Wera Hobhouse said:
“The reforms proposed by this Government mean less local decision-making. The reforms are less strategic and less democratic. We Liberal Democrats believe in community empowerment. It is incomprehensible that the Government proposes to remove local input into development applications. My constituents and their local representatives understand the needs of our community far better than Ministers in Whitehall or developers whose main interest is to make a profit.
“Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A key part of that listing is not just the architecture of our buildings but the beautiful natural setting that reaches right into the city with its steep, undulating hills. How can a centralised housing algorithm ever reflect the local context of Bath?
“Local authorities approve about nine in 10 planning applications. There are more than 1 million homes with planning permission in England that have not been built. The real reason for delay in housing delivery is land banking by housing developers, who make a significant proportion of their profit when land is allocated and then all too often wait for an increase in land value.
“The Government’s proposals for a zoning system will in one stroke allow a great deal of land to be released for development without any obvious mechanism to ensure that increases in land values benefit the local community. How will that help us reach our house building targets, and how will it ensure that we build 100,000 much-needed homes for social rent each year? The private sector has completely failed to build the homes for social rent that we need.
“We need a Government committed to the building of council housing, as progressive Governments did in the past. Only that will address a housing crisis that has created deeper and deeper inequalities. If the Government were truly committed to levelling up, they would start by building social homes, and they would make that a public sector infrastructure programme, instead of building more roads or expanding airports.
“Any review of our planning system should go beyond the delivery of housing alone. Planning authorities play a huge role in creating places for their communities, from connectivity and accessibility to local infrastructure and affordability. The Government should concentrate on such measures, for instance adopting the 20-minute neighbourhood concept or updating guidance to create active neighbourhoods that prioritise walking, cycling and public transport.
“Domestic heating accounts for about 14% of our emissions—the Minister is not listening—so we must have a proper plan to decarbonise heating. The future homes standard is still not fit for purpose. It is a system for building regulation, not for place making, and it goes nowhere near the challenges of addressing sustainable location and layout. Will the Government commit to binding the Planning Act 2008 and the Climate Change Act 2008 together?
Concluding her speech, Wera Hobhouse said:
“Instead of undermining local authorities and local communities, the Government should direct their energy towards building greener, more resilient, more sustainable homes. Communities must have the right to shape places for themselves. That right must be protected.”
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