New planning guidance: what a Boles-up

Planning seems to be in a state of permanent revolution.  At the end of last month, the Government opened a six week consultation on a great wodge of new guidance.  This follows a review led by Lord (Matthew) Taylor which set out to précis 7,000 pages of technical guidance.  The aim was not to alter the substance of the guidance but to make it more usable, and Lord Taylor and his colleagues were scrupulous in sticking to that brief.  But their work appears to have been Pickled, or Bolesed-up, with the introduction of significant new policy proposals on parking and housing affordability.     


The guidance includes, for example, a detailed steer for local authorities on how they should take ‘market signals’, including housing affordability, into consideration when defining housing need and therefore housing targets.  The clear emphasis on affordability of market housing means that councils will need to identify even more sites in the hope of boosting supply and lowering house prices.  Kate Barker’s analysis was rejected by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in opposition, but it is now back in favour.  The Treasury view prevails.     


The pity is that even if these proposals were implemented, few extra homes would be built.  House builders will build the number of homes the market will support – but of course, if they are able to build them on profitable greenfield sites rather than harder brownfield sites, they will do so. 


The draft guidance measures the affordability of housing as the ratio of the bottom quartile of market house prices vs. the bottom quartile of earnings.  Essentially the guidance appears to require local authorities to allocate land so that enough new houses can be built to bring prices within reach of the lowest quartile of earners. 


This is a fantasy.  In Eric Pickles’s own commuter constituency of Brentwood in Essex, the average lowest quartile house prices are over 11.5 times the average lowest quartile salary.  You would have to build all over the Green Belt to have any conceivable hope of bringing prices down significantly, and probably trash the area totally to bring them within reach of the lowest quartile of earners.  I doubt whether that aspiration will be in Eric Pickles’s election address. 


On transport, populism appears to have got the better of sound policy.  The NPPF calls for the ‘fullest possible use’ of public transport, walking and cycling, and clearly much more needs to be done.  As this week’s well attended Parliamentary debate on cycling highlighted, only 2% of trips in the UK are made by bike compared to 10% in comparable countries like Germany.  But the new guidance actively undermines the core principle set out in the NPPF and appears to tear up current policies designed to promote sustainable transport. 


The new guidance criticises ‘aggressive’ traffic calming and ‘unfairly penalising’ drivers, and describes cutting provision for cars as ‘unsustainable’.  CPRE recently revealed a research study for the DfT that found limits on cars were not only necessary to increase the use of other forms of transport but that ‘there have been no adverse economic development impacts following the introduction of maximum parking standards’ – an uncomfortable conclusion that appears to have been ignored. 


There is a six week window for what it termed ‘informal comment’.  It is not clear that the Government is in a mood to change its mind, but if enough people respond to the consultation and raise concerns with their MPs, it will have to.  The vast majority of the Taylor Review’s work codifies existing guidance, but the policy changes that have been slipped in amount to another assault on the countryside and the ability of local authorities to plan for their areas. 



3 Responses to “New planning guidance: what a Boles-up”

  1. 1 andrew needham September 8, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Planners ‘bewildered’ by affordability test

    The Communities and Local Government department announced its streamlined online resource contained ‘a new affordability test for determining how many homes should be built’ when it launched last Wednesday.
    Planning minister Nick Boles described the policy as a ‘legal obligation’ for town halls to provide affordable homes.
    The guidance said that local plans should take steps to increase supply if ‘market signals’ such as affordability suggested it was necessary.

  2. 2 Tim Lund September 9, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    To put Brentwood in context, have you looked into where bottom quartile based market test gives the strongest and weakest signals? How would it differ if a market median test were used? Where do you get your estimate of price elasticity to justify ‘you would have to build all over the Green Belt to have any conceivable hope of bringing prices down significantly’?

  1. 1 National CPRE says “What a Boles Up”! | Sidmouth Independent News Trackback on September 9, 2013 at 8:56 am

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