History would suggest that the decision to hand planning matters to local communities is doomed to fail, according to a leading Birmingham barrister.
Jeremy Cahill QC, a planning specialist from No5 Chambers, said that for Eric Pickles’ Localism Bill to succeed, developers would first have to overcome a “sophisticated anti-development industry out there”.
“In my twenty-five years experience in handling planning matters, I have only experienced one occasion when a proposal for new housing either promoted at appeal or through the development plan process has been welcomed by local people,” he said.
Mr Cahill was speaking following the publication of the wide-ranging Bill which will see a change of emphasis on the planning system with the scrapping of ‘‘top down’’ housing targets to be replaced with new local Neighbourhood Plans.
There will also be an emphasis on developers to demonstrate community support for a scheme – not just consultation – to give it any chance of success.
“Mr Pickles believes that the Localism Bill will help to provide a much needed boost to house building, and encourage new homes to be built. It remains to be seen whether this will come about,” he said.
The biggest question, believes Mr Cahill, is who will ultimately be responsible for determining future housing needs following the demise of the regional model as recent statements from Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government suggested that local authorities would not be obliged to meet their own housing needs – contrary to the latest planning advice.
He added: “In the event the new system fails to deliver housing, it will have to be reviewed. In this context, it is worth remembering Mr Pickles’ criticism of the top-down system is that it failed to deliver sufficient housing. I am far from convinced that the new system constitutes an improvement.”
Stephen Hollowood, executive director and head of public sector at GVA Grimley’s Birmingham office, said that while the bill was to be commended in reversing generations of centralisation, there were inherent dangers in the policy.
“Unless community stalwarts take a wider view and are sensible and realistic about accommodating new development and change to their area, Neighbourhood Plans could be difficult to get approved,” he said. “In the meantime, the lack of a plan – which requires a majority vote by referendum to be approved – could create delays to the planning system unless there are enforceable timescales for preparation imposed.”
Louise Brooke-Smith from CSJ Brooke Smith and planning spokesperson for RICS West Midlands, echoed these concerns.
‘Notwithstanding the continuing poor economic market, the critical test will be whether greater local involvement will motivate and encourage the development industry to provide enough housing and commercial property for communities and businesses to thrive,” she said. “The RICS will continue to work closely with key organisations, including the local enterprise partnerships, to ensure that the bill’s planning and development provisions are able to support a vibrant property and construction sector.”