Planners are accessories to today's housing crimes, by Graeme Bell

The yacht lurches, the mooring lines groan, the halyards slap noisily against the mast, rain lashes the pontoon. I write this from the cabin of a yacht on the south coast, storm bound as the last knockings of Hurricane Lorenzo pass through.

My wife gives me that look which means ‘why am I here?’ The good news is that we can go home to a dry, warm home. Others are not so lucky.

Arriving earlier we noticed a small, dirty catamaran on the pontoon with bare spars, a washing line and a TV aerial. Two school children arrived and disappeared below. The inescapable conclusion is that this is a family home. Now it could be by choice. There are many houseboats, some in sought after locations, providing highly desirable homes. But Little Venice this is not. My hunch is that this family is afloat because they have nowhere else to go and the boat represents cheap accommodation.

Look on the bright side, they can open their cabin windows to get the fresh air. When the sun shines they can sit in the cockpit and soak up the rays. Residents of some rooms in the proposed development in landlocked Watford, won on appeal because the scheme is consistent with regulations, will be living in small spaces like inside cabins, no fresh air and not even a porthole! It has come to a new low when planners must wave through developments which are probably unsuitable for pets.

If this were the exception to the rule it would still be bad, but regrettably there is now a race to the bottom in housing standards. Decent sized bedsits will always be needed, but the country that reportedly builds the smallest new homes in Europe (and that’s not something the UK government can blame on the EU!) is gaining a reputation for splitting homes into multiple occupation on an industrial scale, particularly in our big cities. And along with the reduction in space, there comes the rogue managers.

Agents that extract non-returnable fees from individuals just to look at a poky room.

Worse still, there are some planners that aid and abet this process. They should search their conscience about advising clients on how to spin out the process of application, appeal and enforcement if and when the authorities spot the scheme. ‘Well if I don’t advise them someone else will’ is no defence. This ties up resources in councils that could be put to better use.

The government talks of a massive investment to build homes while interest rates are low, yet their actions are about further deregulation of planning and selling off the homes that remain available for rent. There is something rotten about a country where the poorest are penalised the most. The people who do the dirty jobs we depend on, who clean bottoms in care homes and who wash the dishes in hospital kitchens, they all deserve better. No parent should have to raise a family in a shoebox, whether it floats or not.

Graeme Bell OBE is a Past President of the Planning Officers Society


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