Published in the 4th November 2020 edition of The Cambridge Independent, our Lib Dem district council leader's assessment of the government's new Planning white paper, and what it means for the communities of South Cambridgeshire.
The consultation on the government's Planning White Paper (PWP) closed last week. Shockingly, I am yet to find anyone with anything positive to say about it. And with good reason: It's terrible.
The PWP is thin on detail and ignores opportunities to address the inadequacies of the National Planning Policy Framework, or the horrible consequences of new permitted development rights. Nor does it pay heed to the government putting its own planning inspectorate in order, which was partly responsible for the four-and-a-half years it took to approve the current South Cambs Local Plan. This delay resulted in two years of no Five-Year Housing Land Supply, and 4000 unplanned houses built with no financial contribution to the communities they were sited in.
The government loves to play to its audience, and its ambition to build 'beautiful' does just that. But if a national design standard to deliver 'beauty' results in houses with no reference to local, indigenous architecture, then we have countrywide 'cookie-cutter' developments and you won't know if you are in Harston or Hartington. Moreover, there is little mention of standards, or climate change or homes that support health and wellbeing - all the things that really matter to people.
The new housing minister Chris Pincher's focus is entirely on numbers and speeding up housing delivery. And how does he plan to do this? By encouraging small and medium-size builders into the market - but we get no clue as to how this can be achieved. The last 15 years have seen a 50% decline in SME developers, and though my own experience is that they often build better, quicker and cheaper, they will need help to purchase our very expensive land. And if the government is not going to give them that help, councils need to have the powers and resources to do so.
Additionally, the proposal that no affordable housing will be required for developments of fewer than 50 units will kill off any new affordable homes in many of our villages, depriving people of the choice to live where they want to live - often close to family, support networks or jobs.
Mr Pincher seems quite convinced that parish councils and residents would be so delighted that they were to play a full part in Local Plan formation that they would not mind that this would be the point at which their voices ceased to be heard. Once 'zones' are created development can go ahead, and as long as it is 'beautiful', all will be well and everyone will be happy. My view, having been a district councillor for more than 12 years, is that this could not be further from the truth. The parish council and resident voice adds hugely to the evidence for or against development.
This white paper is a 'developers' charter'. No more, no less. It removes democracy from planning, it silences local voices, it centralises decision-making. It's no wonder no one has a good word to say about it.
Bridget Smith, Liberal Democrat Leader, South Cambridgeshire District Council