Coronavirus: UK minister denies planning shakeup means 'slum homes'

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2 min read
Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick leaves Downing Street as the government is expected to publish an emergency coronavirus powers Bill.
Housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick defended radical planning reforms. Photo: PA

The UK government is promising to “tear down” England’s planning system in the most radical shakeup of building rules in decades.

Ministers say the overhaul will increase and speed up the delivery of much-needed new homes. The Confederation of British Industry said the reforms “allow housebuilders to get to work,” but critics are warning it will undermine the quality, local control and community benefit of new developments.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick was forced to deny warnings by the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Labour party that the reforms could spark a wave of slum housing, calling them “complete nonsense.”

Wide-ranging proposals set out in a consultation paper on Thursday include dividing land into three categories — for growth, for renewal or for protection.

READ MORE: UK construction rebounds at fastest pace in five years

Growth areas would see many major developments automatically approved in principle, renewal areas would see a presumption in favour of some developments, and protected areas would have stricter rules.

Official papers say this carving up of land will be “through local consensus.” But Labour’s shadow housing and planning minister Mike Amesbury claimed the measures were “a developer’s charter that will see communities side-lined in decisions.”

Existing residents and councillors may have far less power to scrutinise, shape or block specific developments once areas have been earmarked for growth or renewal. Local councils’ ability to tailor housing masterplans for their areas, known as local plans, may also be curtailed, with more control and standardisation by central government.

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Meanwhile more developers building small sites will also be exempt from councils’ ‘Section 106’ powers, which force them to fund new roads, social housing or other new infrastructure.

The government said it would help small developers “bounce back” from COVID-19 and build more homes. But Amesbury said it would deny areas vital funding and housing charity Shelter even warned new social housing could face “extinction.”

England’s planning system has been widely criticised. Many see it as too slow, bureaucratic and weighted towards the concerns of existing local residents over the need for more homes.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson blamed the planning system for England having “nowhere near enough homes in the right places” in the consultation paper’s foreword. He said the time had come to “tear it down and start again,” and said the proposed reforms were “unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War.”

But local authorities and planning chiefs have long argued the planning system is not to blame for housing shortages. Nine in 10 planning applications are approved, and more than a million homes have been signed off but not built by developers, according to the Local Government Association.