Housing conference: Labour to look at planning department resourcing

The Labour Party is examining ways to get more resources into local authority planning departments, shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods has said.

Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods
Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods

Speaking this afternoon at the Planning for Housing conference, organised by Planning, Blackman-Woods said planning for housing was "very close to Labour’s heart".

She said the final report of Labour’s Housing Commission, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, which is looking at ways that housebuilding rates can be raised to 200,000 homes a year, including the building of new towns, will be published at the Labour Party conference this weekend.

Blackman-Woods said part of this would look at the issue of resourcing planning departments.

Blackman-Woods said planning could not work for and with communities unless planning departments have the correct level of resources.

She said: "We can’t do any of that unless we have planning officers who have the time to be able to have those conversations with communitiues and who can encourage and support developers.

"One of the things that we are very concerned about at the moment is the capacity of planning departments. Absolutely everybody talks to me about this, and so we really have to think, and we’ve addressed this a little with Lyons, of how we get more resources into planning departments so they are able to undertake some of this preparatory work.

"I’m absolutely convinced that in the long-term it will speed up planning because if you get consent early on then we should able to truncate some of the timescales in terms of getting planning approval", she said.

Elsewhere, Blackman-Woods reaffirmed Labour’s intention to keep the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

She said: "I think Labour’s been fairly consistent in saying we think we can live with the NPPF. We would make a few changes to it - over time we want to integrate neighbourhood planning into the planning system, we want streamlining.

"We also want to make it a statutory responsibility to make a [local] plan, we want to shorten timescales and we want to have a review mechanism so it’s kept as a live document. We think that’s necessary just to speed up the process, it doesn’t mean we’re throwing out the NPPF and the guidance that it comes with".

The shadow minister also said a Labour government would make some "minor changes in terms of brownfield first and the way housing need is assessed".

Blackman-Woods also said the supply of land was a key issue to ensure more homes are built.

"What we’re looking at is how you get more land into the system. So we’ve asked Michael Lyons to look at how people can be incentivised to bring land forward, including public authorities, and whether they can put land up and get a longer-term return than they do at the moment.

"We’re also looking at a compulsory purchase order for land assembly, where we think that is necessary, and only where we think people are not developing land that has planning permission will we look at perhaps at something which is more of a penalty", she said.

During a Q&A session after her speech, Blackman-Woods was asked if Labour would work to introduce a strategic level of planning to deal with issues above the level of local authorities.

She said: "We asked Michael to look at what I call the larger than local problem"

"What do you do about planning beyond the level of the local authority? We are looking at local housing market areas, we’re looking at city regions, combined authorities. So [we are looking at] what might be necessary in planning terms beyond the level of a local authority.

"But that doesn’t mean that would necessarily bring forward specific projects, we’re just looking at that more generally in terms of planning and [whether we have got] a missing tier".

Asked if Labour had "the courage to release the green belt" to allow towns and cities to expand outwards, Blackman-Woods was tight-lipped.

"The one thing I know not to do is mention the green belt", she said. "If I said anything about the green belt no one would hear anything else between now and the election. The current situation allows local authorities through their local plan making to be able to take land into the green belt and to take land out of the green belt and we’re not proposing any change to the status quo."

Catch up with all the news from the Planning for Housing conference here.


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