Community Voice on Planning (CoVoP) held its first conference in Leeds on Saturday 15th October – with the conference title being “NIMBY – reality or slur”. I attended – not to find out if I am one, but to explore the background as to why e.g. media, so immediately, and regularly, calls on those concerned with current planning matters to defend themselves against being NIMBYs.
The conference had a diverse content, which explored fully the mess that is the current planning system, and the very poor outcomes generated by planning law that is simply not fit for purpose. An opening letter was read from Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee. This committee has nothing to do with government, but acts as scrutineer of the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) re policies, administration and spending. One of their recent calls has been for Gavin Barwell MP (new Housing and Planning Minister) to respond the the DCLG-commissioned Local Planning Expert Group’s recommendations on planning. This includes a statement that Leeds’ and Bradford’s Core Strategy housing targets are more than 500 houses per year over-provisioned.
Andrew Wood from CPRE presented some complex ideas about greenbelt use for housing and seemed to be suggesting a deal-based planning arrangement where housing needs were met by very selective use of greenbelt sites where fully assessed and sustainable use and requirement had been carried out. He developed the idea that greenbelt is one of the last planning policy tools that local authorities have to control patterns of development, but stated the obvious threats to existing greenbelt boundaries.
Jenny Unsworth from Congleton asked the question “Does the National Planning Policy Framework 2012 (NPPF) work?” Through a well presented summary of planning milestones, leading towards the position in her own area, Jenny demonstrated that planning reality in Congleton is the same in Leeds and Bradford – and very much anywhere else in England. Her key point was that the workings of the NPPF and Localism were at opposite ends of the planning spectrum. She also reminded us that excessive and undelivered housing numbers were resulting in 5-year land supply failure, leading to local authority plans being automatically out of date. It therefore followed that planning had become an ad hoc system defined by appeals, rather than a plan-led one, as sought by the NPPF. No surprises to find her answer to the question to be “No”.
Julie Mabberly, Chair of CoVoP, and planning activist in Oxforshire, ridiculed the extraordinary basis for setting housing numbers that is the Objectively Assessed Housing Needs system. She described the system as from the pages of “Alice in Wonderland” and demonstrated through various slides that a finger-in-the-air figure for housing need became inflated (and totally un-achievable) through a series of speculative additions to housing need, that also included double-counting. Her summary was that OBJECTIVE housing needs assessment was anything but that.
Dr Quentin Bradley, from Leeds Beckett University set out the controlling influence of developers, and in particular the significance of land price and hoarding of land, in respect of affordable housing provision. Dr Bradley suggested that the current structure of both the land and housing markets contribute to a shortage of housing being built, and the affordable housing build ratio that comes out of that. He argued that with the present structure in place, building more homes alone will not solve the crisis.
Dr Hugh Ellis from the Town and Country Planning Association set out the significant role planning has played in the formation of the nation’s built housing since the Association’s formation some 120 years ago. In particular Dr Ellis considered the outcomes of the planning of garden cities in comparison to the broken system that is currently in place.
A pleniary session concluded the conference, introduced by WARD chair, Dr. David Ingham. He referred to the stimulation given to the WARD group in respect of the hold order, from DCLG, placed on the adoption by Bradford of its flawed Core Strategy, some of the policies of which have been written by the very Inspector who declared it sound. Dr Ingham also called for more MP input at Westminster to change planning law, and thanked in particular, Greg Mulholland MP, for his long support to WARD over the last 7 years of campaigning and for his work in Parliament to change planning law.
The panel of 3 MPs, which also included Paul Sherriff MP and Jason McCartney MP, showed their understanding of a broken planning system and their attendance at this conference, with Greg Mulholland, is proof of that.
My view from this remains unchanged, and that is before I went into the conference I was sure the current planning system is not fit for purpose. I came out with more evidence that that is exactly the case. With an appeal-led planning system for the largest housing sites now in place, the NPPF has totally failed to deliver the housing that is needed, or of the right type and in the right places. The result of this is the great threat to the precious greenbelt. If protecting that makes me a NIMBY then I am proud to stand up and be labelled as that.
Martin Hughes, Treasurer of WARD, Chair of Yorkshire Greenspace Alliance
These are my own views and my own summary of the conference.