England’s right-to-build laws are tokenistic and feeble – just ask the people of Totnes

George Monbiot

Since 2007, people in Totnes had been working to transform a big derelict site, previously a milk-processing factory run by Dairy Crest, into a community project called Atmos.’ 

Photograph: Totnes Community Development Society Wed 15 Sep 2021 07.00 BST

Among the most important democratic questions is how the land surrounding us is used. Is it providing homes we can afford, public services and green spaces, or is it being used by a few to impose damaging schemes on the rest of us and extract profits at our expense?

In a lively democracy, we would be allowed to design our own communities to meet our own needs. But while we are invited to participate in the planning system, this often means little more than approving or objecting to plans put forward by property developers, whose interests seldom align with ours. Instead of democracy, there’s a veneer of public consent.

David Cameron’s government promised to put this right. The 2011 Localism Act would allow communities to take back control. It included a Community Right to Build Order, through which local people would automatically obtain planning permission for a project if they won a referendum.Advertisement

People in the town of Totnes in Devon took him at his word. Since 2007, they had been working to transform a big derelict site, previously a milk-processing factory run by Dairy Crest, into a community project called Atmos. They turned their plans into England’s most advanced and ambitious use of a right to build order. They sought to build 62 genuinely affordable homes, 37 retirement homes, workspaces providing employment for at least 160 people, a hotel, community and youth facilities, and an arts centre.

It was a massive undertaking. Derelict factory sites are notoriously hard to develop. But while Totnes has a reputation for harbouring woolly hippies, it’s also home to some determined and very well-organised people. They put in thousands of unpaid hours, canvassing opinion, developing their plans with the community, architects and other professionals, and raising money.

In 2014 they formed the Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS). It secured an agreement with Dairy Crest for the sale of the site. This gave it the same protection that any developer would enjoy. In 2016, TCDS held a local referendum on the Atmos plans, in which 86% of voters supported the scheme, giving it planning permission. Given the difficulties of working with such a site, pulling this off in just two years was a remarkable achievement.

In 2019, Dairy Crest was bought by the Canadian company Saputo Inc. This didn’t seem to affect the sale. TCDS and Saputo had the site independently valued. After negotiations between their lawyers, Saputo UK confirmed that it would accept £460,000 for the site, and “overage” agreements for the developments TCDS would build, taking the total to almost £5m. This enabled TCDS to secure £2.5m from the National Heritage Lottery Fund.

In late 2019, Saputo’s lawyers told TCDS that the firm was considering another offer for part of the site. Then Saputo UK terminated two of its agreements with TCDS, citing technicalities. However, the negotiations continued. Then, in January last year, just as TCDS expected to exchange contracts with Saputo, the president of Saputo UK, Tom Atherton, phoned to say that the company had decided to sell the site to someone else. On the same day, Saputo’s lawyers confirmed that it had exchanged contracts with what appeared to be a mastics firm based in Essex, called FastGlobe Ltd.

The community members, who had worked so hard for 13 years, were dumbfounded. They were even more surprised when they later discovered the site had been sold for a total of £1.35m, considerably less than the £5m that they would have paid.

The sale had been brokered by a land agent called Patrick Gillies. In March this year, local people had a meeting with him, which they recorded with his permission. He told them something extraordinary. FastGlobe Ltd was, for the purposes of the deal, “a purchase vehicle. That’s all. It’s like a bank.” Gillies explained that he was the coordinator, project manager and partner of the site. Now the community has discovered something else. Patrick Gillies was, until Atherton got divorced, Tom Atherton’s brother-in-law.

There is nothing illegal in this arrangement, though Saputo, which prides itself on its ethical standards and publishes a code of conduct covering such matters, might ask itself whether in this case those standards have been met. None of my questions – directly to Gillies and, through Saputo UK to Atherton – have yet been answered, but Saputo Inc, the parent company, told me: “TCDS has made us aware of these allegations. We are taking the matter very seriously and are looking into them.”

TCDS is appealing to Saputo Inc to buy back the land and honour the original agreement. Because Saputo is a reputable company, and the founding family’s charitable foundations support community groups, it has hopes of being heard.

What this story shows is that the famous Community Right to Build is feeble and tokenistic. It gives communities no protection against having the ground sold from under them, and therefore gives them no real rights. The thousands of hours and £800,000 that the community has spent developing its bid might have been entirely wasted. The rest of the UK needs the kind of right-to-buy legislation that Scotland has: strong legal rights that cannot be suddenly rescinded by landowners and developers.

They said we could take back control. It’s time to honour the promise.

  • George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist
  • This piece was updated on 15 September 2021 to clarify that it was Atherton, rather than Gillies, who later divorced.

‘Pause on Planning for the Future White Paper proposals’

The CPRE note:

As sources for the government confirm that they will be pausing their unpopular plans to change planning rules, we celebrate a successful campaign and urge Michael Gove: ‘take a fresh look’.

Just over a year after the government put forward their original plans to change the rules that control what gets built and where, we’re celebrating the news that the toxic changes are now on hold.

As we await the formal announcement from the government, we at CPRE, the countryside charity, are marking this landmark win for campaigners for the countryside and for local democracy.

‘You simply can’t cut out local voices’

Commenting on government sources confirming a pause to changes to the planning system, Tom Fyans, our deputy chief executive, said:

‘This reported pause to the government’s deeply unpopular changes to planning says one thing – you simply can’t cut out local voices when trying to decide what gets built where. Today could be a key turning point for the future of our countryside and rural communities in desperate need of genuine affordable housing.’’Today could be a key turning point for the future of our countryside and rural communities.’Tom Fyans, CPRE deputy chief executive

‘While we wait for the formal announcement, we’ll continue to work with concerned MPs on positive changes to the planning system that are long overdue.

‘Nothing could be more urgent than empowering local communities to protect their precious green spaces while delivering the affordable homes they desperately need and, at the same time, responding to the climate emergency by regenerating the countryside.’

CPRE: ready to work with the new housing minister for a better system

We welcome Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and stand ready to work with him to make sure that local communities – and the climate – get the best deal possible when badly-needed new homes are built.

We urge Mr Gove to listen to local communities and not developers when considering the future of planning. Tom says:

‘As Michael Gove grapples with his new in-tray, we urge the government to take a fresh look at how to grasp this golden opportunity of creating a planning system fit for the 21st century that has people and nature at its heart.’

We’re delighted that the government has seen sense and pressed the pause button on its previous deeply unpopular and downright damaging plans to change building rules.

But this isn’t enough: we want to see a better planning system that works for people and the planet, and we’ll keep calling on Mr Gove and the government for this.’Over 310,000 of you signed petitions asking the government to reconsider.’

In the meantime, we’re celebrating this milestone and want to thank all of our supporters and members for adding their voice to this campaign. Over 310,000 of you signed petitions asking the government to reconsider, and over 6,600 more have written to your MP.

Today shows that people power really works, and the government is hearing your concerns. We’ll keep up the pressure and stand with local communities to keep local democracy as a cornerstone of the planning system.

Ministers drop shake-up of planning laws

The government had planned to introduce a zonal system, stripping back the rights of locals to object to new houses
The government had planned to introduce a zonal system, stripping back the rights of locals to object to new housesALAMY

George Grylls, Political Reporter Saturday September 11 2021, 12.00pm, The Times

The biggest shake-up of planning laws for 70 years is set to be abandoned after a backlash from voters and Tory MPs in southern England.

Reforms designed to help ministers hit a target of 300,000 new homes annually by the middle of the decade will be watered down, The Times understands.

The government had intended to rip up the planning application process and replace it with a zonal system, stripping homeowners of their rights to object to new houses. It said that councils would also be given mandatory housebuilding targets.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, will announce a more limited set of changes. Tory MPs blamed the planning overhaul for their party’s shock defeat by the Liberal Democrats at the Chesham & Amersham by-election in June.

The need for wholesale reform has been questioned after developers set records for housebuilding. Almost 244,000 homes were built in 2019-20, the highest number since the late 1980s, and developers appear to have coped well with the pandemic.

In the first three months of this year construction began on 46,010 dwellings, an increase of a third on the same period last year and the highest number of quarterly starts for 14 years. There are more than 1.1 million homes with planning permission waiting to be built, analysis by the Local Government Association has found.

Ministers are expected to abandon their intention to make housebuilding targets mandatory. The zonal system proposed last year is also likely to be dropped — although councils could be asked to designate “growth sites” where there is a presumption in favour of development and planning applications will be fast-tracked.

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, said in July that the government had already achieved its aims for housing reform by slipping through changes to the planning system this year.

Cummings said that an expansion of Permitted Development Rights (PDRs), which let developers turn high-street businesses into flats and add two storeys to existing buildings without planning permission, had passed unnoticed in Westminster. The changes had been “barely discussed publicly” so that Tory MPs would not get “over-excited”.

A Whitehall source said: “The changes we made this year have been received positively and we’re hearing of examples of them being put to good use and helping our high streets.”

The backbenchers are likely to seek more concessions. Bob Seely, a leading rebel, said: “Communities . . . have a right to demand to be listened to without being shouted down by the Westminster elite as so-called nimbys.”

Labour welcomed the prospect of the reforms being watered down. Steve Reed, the shadow housing secretary, said: “The government must confirm that their rotten developers’ charter is well and truly dead – and tell the country how they will now find a much better way to deliver the new housing this country so desperately needs.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We will not comment on speculation. Our response to the consultation will be released in due course.”

Economic harm – Brexit and COVID

When it was predicted that Brexit would cause long-term harm to the UK economy (before the onset of the pandemic, numerous studies estimated the likely economic effects of Brexit and almost all predicted the impact to be negative in the long term (eg Dhingra et al., 2017; HM Treasury 2016) the predictions were dismissed as ‘project fear’. For years, some have been predicting the end of the EU – but somehow it successfully survives. For anyone who wishes to better understand the real impact on wider UK business and industry of the COVID and Brexit mix, the attached LSE paper is well worth a read.

The executive summary notes:

• This briefing uses real-time data provided by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to describe recent trends on a range of firm activities, as well as their expectations for the coming months.

• There was a substantial improvement in the volume of business activity in April 2021 relative to the previous three months. For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, significantly more businesses reported an increase in business volumes than reported a decrease. Expectations for the next three months also improved.

• Real wage growth has fallen during the pandemic. Data suggest that in January 2021 nominal wage growth had fallen by 2 percentage points relative to the previous year, while price growth has remained relatively stable.

• Continued price growth is partly explained by increasing average costs of inputs. In April 2021, 25% more manufacturing firms report increased input costs than firms reporting decreased costs. This difference was 6% in January 2020.

• 24% of firms report that Brexit caused exports to the EU to fall (among exporting firms). 33% report that imports from the EU fell (among importing firms). Smaller firms were more heavily affected.

• 61% of firms, including those in the services sector, report experiencing at least one Brexit related issue. The most prevalent issues relate to the border, with 37% of firms reporting delays, 36% reporting additional customs and administration costs and 22% reporting regulatory checks. 33% of firms report that Brexit has affected their costs or prices.

• 20% of businesses report frictions – i.e. increased trade barriers – moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

• The coming months will be crucial for ensuring policy supports a smooth transition back into work allowing economic activity to pick up as expected. Covid-19 and Brexit have caused significant structural changes to the economy; policies to support workers transition across occupations, industries and firms will be important for harnessing growth in productive sectors and businesses. Policies to reduce costs of new regulations and cross-border barriers from Brexit will be crucial for maintaining the competitiveness of UK businesses in the global economy.

Here is the full report

We can’t build our way out of the environmental crisis

George Monbiot September 2021

‘The nominal costs of HS2 have risen from £37.5bn in 2009 to somewhere between £72bn and £110bn today.’ HS2 construction in Buckinghamshire, January 2021. Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

Dig for victory: this, repurposed from the second world war, could be the slogan of our times. All over the world, governments are using the pandemic and the environmental crisis to justify a new splurge of infrastructure spending. In the US, Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure framework “will make our economy more sustainable, resilient, and just”. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s build back better programme will “unite and level up the country”, under the banner of “green growth”. China’s belt and road project will bring the world together in hyper-connected harmony and prosperity.

Sure, we need some new infrastructure. If people are to drive less, we need new public transport links and safe cycling routes. We need better water treatment plants and recycling centres, new wind and solar plants, and the power lines required to connect them to the grid. But we can no more build our way out of the environmental crisis than we can consume our way out of it. Why? Because new building is subject to the eight golden rules of infrastructure procurement.

Rule 1 is that the primary purpose of new infrastructure is to enrich the people who commission or build it. Even when a public authority plans a new scheme for sensible reasons, first it must pass through a filter: will this make money for existing businesses? This is how, for example, plans to build a new hydrogen infrastructure in the UK appear to have been hijacked. In August, the head of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, Chris Jackson, resigned in protest at the government’s plans to promote hydrogen made from fossil methane, rather than producing it only from renewable electricity. He explained that the government’s strategy locks the nation into fossil fuel use. It seems to have the gas industry’s fingerprints all over it.

For the same reason, many of the beneficial projects in Biden’s infrastructure framework and American Jobs Plan have been cut down or stripped out by Congress, leaving behind a catalogue of pork-barrel pointlessness.

Much of the time, schemes are created and driven not by a well-intentioned public authority, but by the demands of industry. Their main purpose – making money – is fulfilled before anyone uses them. Only some projects have the secondary purpose of providing a public service.

Worldwide, construction is the most corrupt of all industries, often dominated by local mafias and driven by massive kickbacks for politicians. If infrastructure is to create any public benefit, it needs to be tightly and transparently regulated. Boris Johnson’s plans to deregulate the planning system and to build a series of free ports, where businesses will be able to escape many labour, customs and environmental rules, will ensure that the link between new building and public need becomes even more tenuous.

Rule 2 is that there’s an inherent bias towards selecting projects with the worst possible value for money. As the economic geographer Bent Flyvbjerg points out, “the projects that are made to look best on paper are the projects that amass the highest cost overruns and benefit shortfalls in reality.” Decisions are routinely based on misinformation and “delusional optimism”. HS2, whose nominal costs have risen from £37.5bn in 2009 to somewhere between £72bn and £110bn today, while its alleged financial benefits have fallen, is not the exception: it’s the global rule. By contrast, for £3bn a year, all bus tickets in the UK could be issued without charge, a policy that would take more cars off the road and reduce emissions much faster than this gigantic white elephant.

Rule 3 is that the environmental benefits of new schemes are routinely overstated while the costs are underplayed. HS2 is again emblematic: though it has been promoted as a greener way to travel, the government’s estimates suggest that it could, overall, release more carbon than it saves. Bypasses that were meant to relieve traffic jams merely shunt congestion to the next pinch point. Big hydroelectric dams routinely produce less electricity than promised while destroying entire ecosystems.

One reason for the environmental costs of new infrastructure is the massive footprint of concrete, whose carbon emissions may never be recouped. Another is the way new building creates new demand. This is an explicit aim of the government’s national infrastructure strategy and its “10-point plan for a green industrial revolution”. But you don’t solve a problem by making it bigger.

Rule 4 is that in countries with high biodiversity, infrastructure is the major driver of habitat destruction. As a paper in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution shows, new infrastructure and the deforestation it causes is highly “spatially contagious”. In other words, one scheme leads to another and then another, expanding the frontier inexorably into crucial habitats. There is an almost perfect relationship between the proximity to a road and the number of forest fires. Roads, above all other factors, are tearing apart the forests of the Amazon, the Congo basin and south-east Asia.

Rule 5 is that massive infrastructure schemes disproportionately affect territories belonging to indigenous people: for centuries their land has been treated as other people’s frontiers. Indigenous groups fought long and hard to establish the principle of “free, prior and informed consent”, which is recognised by the UN and in international law but ignored almost everywhere. This rule applies to all kinds of infrastructure, even those we see as benign. A report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre shows how renewable energy schemes have often driven a coach and horses through indigenous people’s rights.

Rule 6 is that greener infrastructure will produce a greener outcome only if it’s accompanied by the deliberate retirement of existing infrastructure. In addressing the climate and ecological emergencies, the key issue is not the new things we do, but the old things we stop doing. But while the UK government has plans to fund new rail links, bus services and cycle lanes, it has no plans to retire any road or runway. On the contrary, it boasts about its “record investment in strategic roads” (£27bn). Every major airport in the UK has plans for expansion. Last week, for example, Gatwick airport announced a consultation to raise its passenger numbers from 46 million to 75 million a year.

Rule 7 is that rich nations tend to be oversupplied with some types of infrastructure. One of the simplest, cheapest and most effective green policies is to set aside existing motorway lanes for buses, to create a fast, efficient inter-city service. But where’s the money for construction companies in that?

Rule 8 is that environmental change cannot be delivered only by infrastructure. To be effective, it needs to be accompanied by social change: travelling less as well as travelling better, for example. We need to develop not only new railways and tramlines and wind farms and power lines, but a new way of life.

But while governments and construction companies are happy to give us more of everything, the one thing we cannot have is less. The overarching rule is this: if you want a greener world, resist the rising tide of concrete.

 George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist


Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes and Brixham, writes in today’s Western Morning News:

But do his proposals go far enough?

“South Devon is home to some of the most extraordinary views, landscapes and coastlines. 

As a representative of the area, I am only too aware of the privilege I have in speaking up for such a unique part of the country: yet, like the rest of the nation, our businesses, tourism and hospitality industries were put on hold through the onslaught of the pandemic. 

Now, with the vaccine surging through the nation’s veins, we are seeing our economy spring back to life. The previously deserted beaches are packed, while our high streets bustle with resident and tourist alike. Our pubs, bars and restaurants all throng with the clitter-clatter of happy customers who have rightly chosen South Devon as their destination of choice for this year’s holiday.

As a result, our local economy is booming. Visitors are helping it to bounce back at rapid speed. All of this is welcome, but it is important to understand that it comes at a cost.

Such are the demands from the visitor economy that thousands of homes are being moved from long-term rentals to Airbnb lets. Many who live and work in the area are being issued with eviction notices so landlords can capitalise on the boom in holiday rentals. At the time of writing, only 16 properties are available for long-term rent across the district council area of the South Hams, and Torbay tells a similar story.

For years there has been a fine balance between holiday rentals and primary residences. That balance saw schools, hospitals and lifeboat stations (to name a few) catered for by residents who lived locally. It is readily apparent this is often no longer the case, as these and many other local organisations, and businesses, struggle to find the staff they need to operate. Some of our towns and villages, thronged in the summer, are ghostly quiet in the winter.

At both a local and national level, more needs to be done to regain that balance between holiday homes and primary residences. So what can be done?

First, we must introduce the necessary legislation to close the loophole that allows second homes to advertise as holiday rentals, avoid council tax by registering for business rates and subsequently be entitled to small business rate relief. Every holiday home puts pressure on local services and they must pay their share. I have campaigned vociferously for this change in the law, and welcome the Chancellor’s announcement earlier this year that the loophole will be closed, but it cannot come soon enough.

Second, a nationwide survey should be conducted to evaluate the impact of Airbnb-type rentals on local communities. This could include lost tax receipts and the impact on long-term rental markets in both rural and urban communities (this affects London too).

Third, new builds must be built with local affordability targets in mind. This should include Section 106 legal agreements which can be registered against the property title to ensure they are primary residences in perpetuity. This is already under way in Salcombe and looks set to happen elsewhere in the region.

The visitor economy is hugely important to South Devon. I welcome it, but Devon and the South West must have functioning communities that offer more than just a seasonal visitor economy. I am working to find that balance.”

Beauty still betrayed: State of our AONBs 2021

Beauty-still-betrayed.pdf (cpre.org.uk)

Executive summary:

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), are some of the UK’s most distinctive and cherished landscapes. Despite this, for several years there have been concerns about an ambiguity in the policy wording that underpins the planning protection for AONBs. This is leading to local authorities finding
difficulty in applying weight to the AONB designation under the pressure placed on them to find land for housing to meet ‘objectively assessed need’.
This report from CPRE, the countryside charity, highlights the extent of the threat facing England’s 34 AONBs as a result of unsuitable housing developments.

The main findings are:

The threat to AONBs from development is increasing with pressure targeted on the south east and south west of England. Since 2017/18, an average of 1,670 housing units have been approved on an average of 119 hectares (ha) of greenfield land within AONBs each year. This is an average increase of 27% and 129% from the five years leading to 2017, respectively. Housing pressure in the south east and south west is most intense, with 85% of greenfield housing units being granted in AONBs in these regions.

The majority of planning applications on greenfield AONB land are allowed, and are being built at low densities; they are also not providing the affordable homes that rural communities need. On average, 80% of planning applications on greenfield AONB land are given permission. The density of housing on greenfield AONB land is on average just 16 dwellings per hectare, the focus of which is largely on building ‘executive’ houses with only 16% of all homes built being considered as affordable by the government’s definition.

High housing pressure is also being translated to land around AONBs, with houses built in the setting of AONBs increasing by 135% since 2012/13.
To ensure that these special landscapes are safeguarded and are receiving the highest level of protection against development, CPRE recommends:

A new requirement for the government and local planning authorities to maintain and publish annual information on the number of housing units that are permitted or refused in AONBs, and the amount of land developed for housing.
Prioritising small scale affordable and social homes for local people, held by the community in perpetuity, on sustainable AONB sites.

The public interest in conserving and enhancing AONBs should be prioritised over meeting and delivering on local plan housing targets.

AONB partnerships should be treated as statutory consultees on major developments within or in the setting of AONBs, with a requirement for local authorities to give weight to their advice.

The NPPF should be strengthened to prevent high levels of development in the setting of AONBs, all of which should be of a sensitive scale, location and design and only be permitted if it results in no adverse impacts on the AONB.

Here is the full report

One Year On!

Planning for the future: the white paper one year on

Avatar for Emma Atkins

By Emma Atkins 6th August 2021

One year ago today, the government published its Planning for the Future white paper, a blueprint for the biggest shake-up of the planning system since the Second World War.

In the foreword, the Prime Minister vowed to ‘tear it down and start again’ and alarm bells sounded around the country. Many of us know the planning system isn’t perfect, but what the government was proposing to do was demolishing the whole house just to fix the roof.

Here is the ‘Friends of South Hams’ consultation response (October 2020) to the Government’s White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ proposals.

Not just about the algorithm

Famously, the so-called ‘mutant algorithm’, which would dictate where houses would be built around the country, gained the most attention in autumn 2020. Analysis from Lichfields consultancy found that the method would mean that areas in the south would be built on the most. It’s clear that governing by algorithm doesn’t work but the problems with the government’s planning proposals don’t end there, which is what we stressed in the Daily Mail.

Such a behemoth policy change was bound to get pushback from multiple directions, and CPRE worked hard to highlight the dangers to community voice, affordable housing and local green space.

Community voice

Many in the sector were concerned that the planning changes would take power out of the hands of communities and into the hands of developers. This was echoed by a poll in September 2020, which found that only 4% of councillors thought the proposals would make the planning system more democratic. More than 2,000 councillors then signed an open letter to the Secretary of State, organised by CPRE and Friends of the Earth, warning that the proposed changes to planning will undermine trust in the planning system.’ Only 4% of councillors thought the proposals would make the planning system more democratic.’

From local government to national government, policy-makers were making their voices heard. Alarmed by the potential electoral backlash, Conservative MPs held a parliamentary debate in October 2020 to oppose their government’s own plans.

The debate was a firestorm, with former Prime Minister Theresa May saying the proposals needed ‘a complete rethink’. Democracy in action!

Many were concerned the planning changes would take power out of the hands of communities | Abigail Oliver

Later down the line, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee echoed these concerns in a report in June 2021 and concluded that: ‘All individuals must still be able to comment and influence upon all individual planning proposals’. The government has been continuously pelted from all directions over the plans to scrap community voice from individual developments; ignoring local people will not get the homes we need in the right places.

Homes that everyone can afford

The government justified the white paper by saying not enough homes are being built under the current system – and it’s true that we need more homes, and especially more homes that people can genuinely afford. But the planning system is not the reason why these aren’t being built.

The Local Government Association found that over 1.1 million plots have been granted planning permission, but are yet to be built. This is because sites go up in value the longer developers hold onto them. Nine out of ten planning applications are granted permission, demonstrating that the planning process is not the problem; the spanner in the works comes later down the line. ‘Key workers are often priced out of their communities.’

We are currently in a housing crisis of affordability. CPRE research found that key workers are often priced out of their communities, and it’ll take more than 100 years to supply people on the social housing register with homes to live in at the rate we’re building social housing at now.

This year, we published research with English Rural about rural homelessness and a joint letter with Shelter about what the white paper will mean for affordable housing. Moreover, our brownfield analysis showed that the government could build 300,000 homes a year without touching green spaces, and was covered in the Daily Telegraph.

Access to local green space

The white paper proposes to allocate land in England as either ‘growth’ sites or ‘protected’ sites. In ‘growth’ sites, developers will receive outline planning permission (that is, permission for the general concept of the development, such as the type and size) if they adhere to the requirements in the local plan. In ‘protected’ sites, development will come forward under the present system.

However, CPRE has continually found that the present system is not doing enough to protect green spaces, and the white paper hasn’t guaranteed any further protections for these areas.

The present system is not doing enough to protect green spaces | Ruth Davey

In our State of the Green Belt report in February 2021, CPRE found that 257,944 homes are proposed for green belt land, nearly five times as many as in 2013. In April, our State of AONBs report found that houses built in AONBs increased by 135% since 2012/13, with 80% of applications getting planning permission. On average, only 16% of homes built in AONBs are considered affordable by the government’s definition.

And on top of all that was CPRE-commissioned research, covered in The Times in May 2021, which found greenfield sites will be needed to accommodate 193,724 homes in London, 106,852 homes in the southeast and 69,195 in the southwest over the next five years – if current proposals go ahead. Moreover, many brownfield sites in the north will remain unused, conflicting with the government’s levelling up agenda.

Our solutions

We were keen to put forward our own ideas and offer constructive and positive solutions to the planning proposals. CPRE is convening a coalition of over 30 planning, housing, environmental, heritage and transport organisations, and we published a joint Vision for Planning together in January 2021. This paper was months in the making and was covered in the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. We were keen to put forward our own ideas and offer constructive and positive solutions to the planning proposals.’

Building on this work, CPRE published the Six tests for planning with 21 other organisations from the planning coalition in July 2021. The tests will be used to scrutinise the government’s response to the white paper consultation by scoring the government red, amber or green on six key areas, including local democracy, affordable housing and nature.

Concessions from government

In December 2020, the government recalibrated the ‘algorithm’ and instead introduced modelling that placed a 35% uplift of housing in urban areas. While we welcomed the changes, we were concerned that uplift will not actually benefit inner urban areas needing regeneration, but would place more pressure on Green Belts and AONBs.

CPRE was relieved when the government announced it was no longer proposing to restrict affordable housing provision on small-to-medium sites, which would have resulted in a loss of up to 6,000 affordable homes every year. Our response was covered in inews, and we’re still concerned the white paper will not deliver the housing we need.’We’re still concerned the white paper will not deliver the housing we need.’

There was a political earthquake in June 2021 whereby the Liberal Democrats overturned a 16,000 Conservative majority in the Chesham and Amersham by-election. The planning proposals were touted as one of the core motivators of the swing, and resulted in the Prime Minister insisting that there had been  ‘misunderstandings’ about the planned changes. Softer language was used in a Westminster Hall debate in the following month, with the housing minister confirming that the government’s approach would be one of ‘reform’ rather than ‘tear down and start again’ as proclaimed initially by the prime minister.

An array of buildings of different types
We’ll continue campaigning ahead of the upcoming Planning Bill | Toa Heftiba / Unsplash

What’s next

After a year of hard work, collaboration and clear wins, there’s still much to do.

We are expecting the government to respond to the white paper consultation and bring forward the Planning Bill in late 2021, which will lay out its direction of travel. The government originally promised the response in spring 2021, and the delay is a testament to the pressure from all angles making the government refine its thinking.

We will continue to campaign in the meantime, and work with the CPRE network, planning coalition and government officials to try and develop the best version possible of the proposals. ‘We hope that the stories we gather will highlight how important it is to listen to local people and that this makes planning work better for everyone.’

We want to gather stories from around the country and amplify voices and groups that are too often overlooked in the planning system. As the threats to local democracy and affordable housing are among the core concerns we have with the upcoming Planning Bill, connecting with organisations who are experienced in harnessing the voice of communities is key. We hope that the stories we gather will highlight how important it is to listen to local people and that this makes planning work better for everyone.

We couldn’t have done this without the CPRE network and supporters. Please consider donating to help us continue this work!

Another u-turn on planning changes

Robert Jenricks vast overhaul of the planning system has hit a further setback after the Government quietly u-turned on plans to scrap the duty on developers to build affordable housing on small sites.

There has been fierce criticism.  In an open letter issued shortly after the Prime Minister’s build, build, build speech, the chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Victoria Hills, voiced concern about the approach that the white paper was expected to take and the “planner bashing rhetoric” and argued that sweeping away the planning system was not the right response. The President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alan Jones, agreed that the planning system needed to be reformed but branded the white paper’s proposals as “shameful”.

FOSH and other members of the South Devon Alliance had a number of Zoom meetings with Anthony Mangnall MP to make clear their opposition to many of the Governments planning proposals. Almost every Local Authority in England also made their concerns known about the ‘Planning For The Future’ White Paper.

There have already been several waves of planning policy change (including on change of use and permitted development rights (PDRs)) during the Covid-19 pandemic, with more to come.  

Here is the FOSH consultation response to the original proposals.

Now the Government has quietly u-turned on plans to scrap the duty on developers to build affordable housing on small sites. 

Last summer, the Housing Secretary announced a string of reforms to the current planning system including proposals to abolish the requirement for housebuilders to deliver affordable housing on sites of up to 50 homes. 

Mr Jenrick believed the move, along with a raft of other changes to the planning rules, would dramatically speed up housebuilding in England by “cutting red tape but not standards”.  

The Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government had raised the prospect of ditching what is known as the “small sites cap” for housing developments smaller than 50 units, prompting outrage from housing associations and campaign groups. 

But the department has now rowed back on the plans following a consultation, slipping out its decision via an update on its website. 

“We have carefully considered the consultation feedback and the situation in the housing market,” the DCLG states. “On balance, we do not consider this measure to be necessary at this stage, particularly in light of the broader way in which the sector has responded to the challenges of the pandemic.” 

The u-turn is the second to hit the Cabinet minister’s reforms in less than six months after he was forced into another embarrassing climbdown on changes to the housing algorithm used to allocate where new homes should be built. 

The changes formed a central pillar of the Conservative Government’s manifesto commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.  

However, the proposals sparked a full-blown rebellion from Tory backbenchers, who attacked the “mutant algorithm”  that would have seen house building requirements rise by as much as 200 per cent in certain Conservative heartlands.

Campaigners have welcomed the latest about turn from Mr Jenrick, with the countryside charity CPRE calculating the decision could result in around 6,000 new affordable homes being built each year.

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, said it was a “massive relief” but warned too many key workers were still unable to afford to get on to the housing ladder, particularly in rural communities. 

“Although welcome, this announcement only makes sure the situation doesn’t get significantly worse – more action must be taken to provide adequate numbers of genuinely affordable homes,” he said. 

For more about the Planning For The Future White Paper and the remaining Government proposals see:

FOSH consultation response

Planning For The Future briefing

Still Planning For The Future

Planning For The Future

More Planning For The Future

Guide to the planning consultation

Calculating future housing needs

Changes to the current planning system

Algorithm at the centre of planning reforms!

For more information, email:     friendsofthesouthhams@gmail.com

Or write to: FOSH, Rathlyn, Grenville Rd, Salcombe, TQ8 8BJ

FOSH © 2021

This Web site is for those who love the South Hams “The jewel in the crown of Devon” and who wish to protect and enhance the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Gerston Point latest

by Daniel Clark – Local Democracy

The tennis court built at Gerston Point. Picture credit South Hams District Council

The founder of the White Stuff fashion and lifestyle brand has again lost his bid to keep the building, skate park and tennis court he built without permission in a Devon beauty spot.

South Hams District Council planners have refused the latest attempt that millionaire fashion boss Sean Thomas had made for the plans behind his house at Gerston Point in the South Hams.

Mr Thomas and his wife had acquired an adjoining strip of agricultural land and on that built a tennis court, skate park and garage without planning permission, on a site that is in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and alongside the Salcombe to Kingsbridge Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Two retrospective planning applications had previously been refused by South Hams planners, who had passed the application over to the enforcement team to commence formal enforcement action and serve notice.

Mr Thomas earlier this year applied for a Certificate of Lawfulness for the development on the ground that the time limit for taking enforcement action has passed, but on Friday, South Hams planning officers once again rejected that bid.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the time limits for taking enforcement action in the case of operational development the time limit is four years, and the report of the planning officers concluded that on the balance of probabilities, the evidence submitted by Mr Thomas supported his claim that the skate bowl, tennis court and outbuilding were substantially completed more than four years ago.

However, the legislation says that an unauthorised material change in use of land will only become immune from enforcement action if it is carried out continuously for a 10-year period.

The report added: “The previous use of the land was for agricultural purposes. The land was purchased by the applicant in May 2015 and it is stated that it has been used for various domestic purposes in conjunction with the house prior to the engineering works and erection of the structures.

“The council considers that the operational development that is the subject of the certificate application is integral to or part and parcel of the unauthorised use of the land for domestic purposes, and as a result, the council may still legitimately enforce against it as part of the breach of planning control.

“The removal of the operational development is required to remedy the breach of planning control in the form of the unlawful change of use.

“The council has already issued an enforcement notice in relation to that unlawful change of use which also requires the removal of the operational development, and for these reasons, the application for the certificate is refused.”

The application had sought and failed to establish the lawfulness of the outbuilding, tennis court and skate bowl, with matters on the planning merits of the proposal not being considered at this stage.

The previous planning applications had, though, been refused on the grounds that the development still represents an unwelcome and incongruous intrusion into an undeveloped countryside location and the development fails to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and special qualities of the South Devon AONB.

The refusal of the Certificate of Lawfulness means that enforcement action is once again back on the table for the council to enact over the unauthorised development.

For more information, email:     friendsofthesouthhams@gmail.com

Or write to: FOSH, Rathlyn, Grenville Rd, Salcombe, TQ8 8BJ

FOSH © 2021

This Web site is for those who love the South Hams “The jewel in the crown of Devon” and who wish to protect and enhance the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.