Planning package 'must go further'

A MAJOR housing and planning package does not go far enough, say rural business leaders.

The government package aims to deliver up to 70,000 new homes – including affordable housing and opportunities for first-time buyers to get onto the housing ladder.

It includes a series of measures aimed at supporting businesses, developers and first-time buyers, while slashing unnecessary red tape across the planning system.

Restrictions on house builders will be relaxed in a bid to help unlock 75,000 homes currently stalled due to sites being commercially unviable.

Developers who can prove that a council's "costly affordable housing requirements" are making projects unviable will see them removed, said the government.

Up to 15,000 affordable homes will be built and 5,000 empty homes brought back into use using new capital funding of £300m and an infrastructure guarantee.

Developers will be able opt to have decisions taken by the Planning Inspectorate where councils are "poor at processing decisions," the government said.

The package was unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles on Thursday (6 September).

"The measures announced today show this government is serious about rolling its sleeves up and doing it all it can to kick-start the economy," said Mr Cameron.

"Some of the proposals are controversial; others have been a long time in coming.

"But along with our Housing Strategy, they provide a comprehensive plan to unleash one of the biggest homebuilding programmes this country has seen in a generation.

"That means more investment around the county; more jobs for our people; and more young families able to realise their dreams and get on the housing ladder."

The Country Land and Business Association said the package was welcome but did not go far enough for rural businesses.

CLA president Harry Cotterell said he was pleased David Cameron and Nick Clegg had recognised the planning system needed to change to deliver for the rural economy.

"This is encouraging news," said Mr Cotterell.

"However, we do not believe the package goes far enough to inspire the level of confidence needed for rural businesses to risk making greater investment in their enterprises."

Mr Cotterell acknowledged that the statement recognised the burden that could be imposed under Section 106 agreements on development sites.

And he welcomed the proposal to fund affordable housing through governmental guarantees.

But he said the statement failed to recognise that requirements to pay for infrastructure such as roads were discouraging smaller rural businesses from investing.

To deliver rural economic growth, the government also needed to do more to make the front end application process faster, more efficient and less expensive for small rural businesses.

"Applicants have to provide expensive reports in support of their applications which are often disproportionate to the size of the development proposed and, in some cases, irrelevant.

"These reports provide no guarantee that the planning application will be validated, let alone granted approval," said Mr Cotterell.

"There was a case where a landowner wanted to provide flood defences at his own expense.

"He ended up spending more money on paperwork for the local authority at the start of the process than he did eventually in building the defences."


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