Labour moots national new town plan

A commission set up by Labour to look at ways to increase housing supply will examine whether decisions on a proposed new generation of new towns and garden cities should be taken at the national level rather than locally, Planning has learned.

In his speech to the Labour Party conference in Brighton last week, the party's leader, Ed Miliband, said that the party would "identify new towns and garden cities" as part of its goal to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020.

Speaking to Planning, shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods said a commission, led by former BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons, would consider whether decisions over new towns and garden cities should be determined nationally, guided by the major infrastructure blueprint set out in a review by Sir John Armitt.

Armitt's review, commissioned by Labour and published last month, proposed retaining the existing nationally significant infrastructure project regime, under which applications are examined by the Planning Inspectorate and decisions taken by the relevant secretary of state (Planning, 20 September, p7).

The shadow minister said that, should decisions on new towns and garden cities be taken nationally, this would not be anti-localist as Labour would invite councils to come forward with proposals for the new settlements. "The initiative would have to come from local authorities themselves," she said.

Blackman-Woods added that the Lyons commission had been asked to "set out the financial incentives and freedoms" under such a scheme.

The Lyons review will also consider whether the Community Infrastructure Levy and section 106 obligations could be overhauled in favour of a "better planning gain system that delivers more long-term", the shadow minister said.

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn told the conference that Labour would hand councils a "right to grow", which would allow them "to expand and ensure that neighbouring areas work with them".

Blackman-Woods said the measure would help to facilitate negotiation between neighbouring authorities and ensure that it is "happening more smoothly" than under the duty to co-operate, which is meant to ensure councils look beyond their own boundaries when addressing need for development.

Ed Turner, deputy leader of Labour-controlled Oxford City Council, told a fringe session organised by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) that the duty to co-operate "absolutely doesn't work where there is a disagreement".

He said: "In Oxford City, we would like to grow our city. South Oxfordshire District Council, our neighbours, don't share that aspiration."

Oxford City Council last year argued that Tory-led South Oxfordshire Council had not considered how it could help meet the city's unmet housing needs at the latter's core strategy examination (Planning, 1 June 2012, p8).

Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey told the fringe meeting he had visited Oxford to see the problem first hand. He said: "There is low-grade agricultural land, ideal for a community of 2,000-3,000. But can you get the co-operation of the adjacent Conservative council? In your dreams."

Catriona Riddell, strategic planning convenor at the Planning Officers Society, said that the Labour Party "seems to recognise that there is a significant problem and that the duty to co-operate is not working".

200,000 - The number of homes a year that Ed Miliband has pledged would be built under a Labour government by 2020

Need To Know: five key Labour policies on planning

1. 200,000 homes a year by 2020 Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged that under a Labour government Britain would be building 200,000 homes a year by the end of the parliament. Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey told a fringe session: "We're going to be going from the lowest level of housebuilding last year since the 1920s ... to effectively doubling housebuilding by 2020."

2. 'Use it or lose it' permissions Miliband told the conference: "We will say to private developers ... either use the land or lose the land." Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods said that the Lyons review would examine "if we can streamline the compulsory purchase order regime" to tackle land hoarding. "It is complex, legalistic, time-consuming and expensive," she said.

3. Localism, not top-down targets Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said communities would take the lead in getting Britain building, with "people deciding where new homes will go and what land they want to preserve". Benn said top-down targets would not produce more homes. "Councils and communities must take that responsibility, but they need more power to do so," he said.

4. Affordable Rent would face axe Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey told a fringe session that Labour would scrap the Affordable Rent model, a new method to fund social housing allowing developers to charge higher rents than before, but giving them smaller capital grants. "We're are not going to be sticking with what the government has introduced," Dromey said.

5. No blank cheque for HS2 Shadow chancellor Ed Balls questioned whether the proposed high-speed rail link between London and the north is the "best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country". The party's growth adviser Lord Adonis told a fringe session: "The government woke up one morning and added £10 billion to the cost. We need to understand what's going on."

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