Decisions on where new homes go ‘will not be made by central government’, Pincher pledges

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has defended the government's proposed planning changes against accusations that it will "diminish local decision-making" and would focus too much housing on the South East of England.

Housing minister Christopher Pincher (official portrait, CC BY 3.0)
Housing minister Christopher Pincher (official portrait, CC BY 3.0)

Housing minister Christopher Pincher was speaking yesterday at the Chartered Institute of Housing's Housing 2020 Festival about the government's proposals to change the planning system as set out in its Planning for the Future white paper published last month.

Pincher said he wanted to “address three myths that have surfaced in response to our planning reforms”.

The white paper sets out radical changes to local plan-making and development management, including diminising consultation and engagement at the application stage and increasing it at the plan-making stage.

Firstly, on “the ill-founded criticism that our changes will diminish local decision-making”, he said: “Actually, our reforms will ensure consultation with local communities from the very beginning of the planning process... We want communities to have their say on setting the [local] plan, rather than reacting to individual applications too late in the process.”

As well as “providing certainty for developers who will know what is likely to be agreed before making an application”, the proposed change “also encourages all parties to engage in more strategic, proactive planning rather than the tactical, reactive, rear-guard responses that we’ve seen too often in the past”, he said.

The move will "inject greater democratic involvement into the system", he added.

As to the second “baseless charge levelled at our reforms”, he said: “We are categorically not weakening any of the existing environmental protections, including our policies on the green belt.” Rather, “our local plan policies require developers to commit themselves to providing – and funding – a vast array of green infrastructure”, he said.

As to the “final myth” that the reforms would disproportionately promote development in the South East, due to changes in the government's standard method for assessing housing need, he said: “Our longer-term proposals... will result in an overall increase in the number of homes being built across the whole country while delivering more houses in the least affordable areas.”

He said proposals in its local housing need consultation, which set out short-term changes to the standard method, “place a much greater emphasis on affordability because, as a general rule, the least affordable places are those where supply has simply not kept up with demand” - resulting in “people being prevented from living where they most want to”.

He went on: “Our standard method also identifies the minimum number of homes that a council should plan for without setting a target. This means that decisions about where homes go will not be made by central government, but by local people who know their areas best.”

Pincher also referred to longer-term changes to the standard method set out in the government’s Planning for the Future white paper, published at the same time as the housing need reforms.

He said: “We are also consulting on proposals for a binding local housing requirement, but we are clear that this would take account of local constraints and needs, including protecting the green belt and maximising existing opportunities in towns and cities."

The housing minister last week wrote that housing numbers for individual local authorities generated by the revised method were “not set in stone” and “will not necessarily be the same as their ultimate targets”.

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