RIBA and housing experts in the country warn of erosion of building laws with fast-track housing proposals
The biggest shake-up of housing planning in England for decades has caused fury as it moves to fast-track the building of “beautiful” homes across the country that will “dilute” democratic oversight, choke off affordable housing and lead to “slum” living conditions.
Under the proposals that were unveiled on Thursday, planning applications based on pre-approved “design codes” would get an automatic green light, which eliminates an entire stage of local oversight within designated zones.
Land across England will be split up into three categories, for growth, renewal or protection, under what the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, described as “once in a generation” reforms to sweep away an outdated system of planning and to boost construction.
This comes after WH Smith is looking at cutting 1,500 jobs, which is 11% of its workforce after the lockdown has caused sales to drop.
New homes, schools, hospitals, shops and offices would be permitted automatically within areas in the “growth” category. In “renewal” areas, proposals would be given “permission in principle”, which would be subject to checks and Green belt and areas of natural beauty would be protected.
While the proposed reforms are likely to appeal to developers, they have prompted stinging criticism from housing charities, planning officers and architects who have warned that a new generation of fast and substandard housing will be on the horizon.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) described the proposals as “shameful” and said they would do “almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes”.
“While they might help to ‘get Britain building’ – paired with the extension of permitted development rights last week – there’s every chance they could also lead to the development of the next generation of slum housing,” said RIBA president Alan Jones.
Hugh Ellis, director of policy at TCPA, criticised the reforms overall, saying: “This kind of disruptive reform doesn’t suit anybody, neither landowners nor developers. They’re turning the system on its head at a time when it’s working very well for the volume house builders – 90% of planning applications are approved and there are about a million unbuilt permissions.”
He added: “It’s about local democracy. When local people are walking down the street and come across a new development they didn’t know about, the answer will now be: ‘You should have been involved in the consultation eight years ago when the code was agreed.’
“It’s diluting the democratic process. At the moment, people get two chances to be involved: once when the plan is made, and once when a planning application is submitted. Now they’ll only have a chance when the code is being prepared.”
This comes after PizzaExpress has said that it could close around 67 of its restaurants throughout the UK, putting up to 1,100 jobs at risk. The chain, which also revealed it has put itself up for sale, blamed the move on the “significantly more challenging environment” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.