David Cameron today published a Green Paper setting out how a Conservative Government would change our planning system - one of a series of policy documents published in recent months (you can read the rest here).
Although it is my job to promote all of these policies, obviously there are some that I think are better than others - and this one is very good.
Planning policy is always going to be contentious because it has to reconcile the inevitable tension between development and conservation. But the current way we do this is particularly bad because:
- it is top down, not bottom up. In drawing up their local plans, councils have to have regard to national planning policy statements, regional spatial strategies and national and regional building targets - and government inspectors routinely rewrite those plans and overturn local planning decisions; and
- it is almost wholly negative. People only tend to get involved when they are objecting to something someone else wants to do, rather than having a say in drawing up their local council’s plan.
The green paper proposes changing to something we call ‘open source planning’. Open source is a concept which originated in the software industry, where it aims to make computer programming open to all. We want to shift planning from being something that is for experts to something that allows communities across the country to shape their surroundings.
Rather than having one planning system with policies determined at the centre and applied unvaryingly across the country, we want a basic national framework within which local people and their local councils can produce their own distinctive policies. People in each neighbourhood would be able to specify what kind of development they want in their area. Significant local projects would have to be designed through a collaborative process that has involved the neighbourhood and there would be a faster approval process for planning applications where a significant majority of the immediate residential neighbours raise no objection.
No more regional spatial strategies, no more national and regional housebuilding targets, no more government inspectors rewriting local plans so long as they comply with national standards and were developed fairly and no appeals against local decisions if they are consistent with local plans and the correct processes were followed.
Finally to ensure that this doesn’t become a nimby’s charter, there would be a framework of incentives for development. When a community builds more homes, the government would match pound-for-pound the extra money it collects in Council Tax for six years. When a community attracts more businesses, government would allow that community to keep the additional business rates for six years. And neighbourhoods would also keep some of the money contributed to councils by developers.
The current planning system is doing grave damage to Croydon. Time and time again, inappropriate developments are turned down locally only to be overturned on appeal. These proposals offer us the chance to take back control over our own communities. They are some of the most important changes a Conservative Government would make.