Ian's Blog: 22 Years of Hurt

13 Dec 22

So have you calmed down yet? Have you finished kicking the bins, throwing pizza at the TV, and blaming incompetent officials for having no idea?


So have you calmed down yet? Have you finished kicking the bins, throwing pizza at the TV, and blaming incompetent officials for having no idea?

I am, of course, talking about the Government’s various decrees and announcements regarding further proposed changes to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB), headlined by proposals to put communities at the heart of the planning system. For those of us that have tried to navigate the system for decades, this all feels increasingly like a recurring bad dream that we never wake up from.

But it’s important to get some perspective.

First and foremost, positive planning reform and the housebuilding industry have seemingly been made a scapegoat to appease a fractious and splintering parliamentary Conservative party. The Prime Minister and his Secretary of State clearly feel there are bigger fish left to fry during this parliamentary cycle than the housing crisis. We may not like it, but that is politics. The Conservatives are intent on staying in power for as long as possible, and Brexit remains the big ideological project to grapple with before the next general election. To do so requires appeasement of the back benches. LURB was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It would also be right to state that the recent announcements are by no means the first time that a Government has sought to balance the seemingly impossible task of delivering more housing whilst also limiting the release of greenfield land. I still go back to the year 2000 and the release of PPG3 Housing as the point where the housing crisis first properly took seed. And some of the criticism of the guidance note at the turn of the century looks remarkably prescient: warnings of a greenfield moratorium, an inability for authorities in the South East to meet their housing needs and a major reduction in the flow forward of housing land and the falling away of building rates were all identified, together with reminders that strategic housing targets over prior decades had only ever been achieved by using large greenfield sites. What wasn’t anticipated was the sheer increase in house prices and the affordability gap – or homelessness, for that matter. It’s worth reminding ourselves that PPG3, which triggered much of the subsequent planning reforms of the noughties, was introduced by a Labour Government that had a huge parliamentary majority, and was riding the wave of a Cool Britannia economic boom at the time, so this isn’t simply about partisan politics.

What the proposed amendments to LURB do now magnify is the importance of leadership at a local level, as by definition, the Government is abdicating/delegating responsibility (depending upon your point of view) to local politicians. So you can have Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price standing in the House of Commons two days after the LURB amendments were publicised to confirm that Thurrock embraces its obligations to build new homes, requesting assistance to speed up the process for delivering infrastructure, and being congratulated by the PM for doing so. You can have a local authority like Canterbury progressing a Local Plan that represents one of the most sophisticated and detailed planning documents produced, that takes a long-term, infrastructure-led approach to development, and bold and courageous leadership from councillors and officers. There are multiple examples where this is not being followed, but my point is that the amendments to LURB do not in all instances need to be the death knell on housing delivery.

Moreover, as long as I have lamented the consequences of PPG3, I have equally had cause to challenge the strategic land promotion and house building industry on their record in demonstrating that they are not to blame for the housing crisis. Spoiler alert; I genuinely, sincerely, and passionately do not believe that land promoters and housebuilders are responsible, so why do some politicians continue to get away with casting aspersions that they do not provide infrastructure as part of their developments, that they land bank, throttle housing delivery, build the wrong homes in the wrong places, and are disinterested in design and quality?

Ultimately it is down to the development industry to change this mindset. And change has to start in schools, colleges and universities, because it is the first time voters in January 2025 that need to be convinced that only by properly planning for development will sustainable, well-balanced communities be created, that will improve their life chances and standard of living. Their parents are part of a generation that were told by politicians that brownfield sites would deliver their housing needs, which has palpably proven not to be the case, even if the public realm has been (in some instances) comprehensively improved. We need developers to demonstrate the benefits, and we need our young people to change the debate. Otherwise, we can anticipate many more years of hurt, and we’ve had enough of that already.

Ian Anderson Chief Executive,Planning