We are regularly contacted by people concerned about the impact of housing on services and our environment and just the sheer numbers of houses being put forward for allocation into development plans. It often feels that there is little we can do to influence what goes where, even when sites are destined to destroy ancient woodland or deplete important greenspace for local communities.
This blog highlights what we have recently been doing and gives you some pointers on how to need to change things in the future. First a ray of hope, then some information about the National Planning Framework 4, what it is and the timetable proposed for it. Finally, some new proposals on housing coming from Labour and the Government.
A ray of hope
We gave a talk at a Scotland Policy Conference on assessing the new planning act. For years we have pushed to get our voice, your voice, represented at these conferences which are a way of influencing policy makers and sharing perspectives. The broad spectrum of events are aimed at professionals “to have the opportunity to lobby, learn, exchange views and network” and are organised by a private company. They are possibly not what the average person would generally go to, but if you have an interest in some of the topic matters like housing and planning its worth trying to get a subsidised ticket just to get a feel for how those who are setting the policies that affect our lives are saying.
Normally when I speak at these conferences, I get the sense that the inclusion of the community voice is a bit of a token gesture and I get a fairly luke-warm reception. It can be hard to stand up and talk against the tide, in a room full of suits. But yesterday it felt different. What I said obviously resonated with a number of delegates who were planners or professionals working in the field. I get a sense that there is a growing sense of frustration, probably the debacle of democracy coming from Westminster, the growing realisation that we have so little time to deal with climate change and the loss of wildlife on the planet, adds to many people’s sense that things have just got to change and we need to be more vocal.
It is interesting how once a few people start to speak out it encourages others to follow, when previously they might have stayed quiet. One delegate thanked me for saying what needed to be said and admitted that I had embolden him to ask a far more critical question during the question and answer session, than he would have done had I not ‘provided him the space’. So, let us capitalise on this and keep pressing our points, perhaps the tide is turning.
Here is a copy of what I said, please feel free to use it or pass it on.
Part of the conference agenda was about how the Government will be delivering the new National Planning Framework 4.
This is a hugely influential document, particularly so since the planning act has given it an enhanced status (for the planning geeks this means it now includes all of the Scottish Planning Policies and forms part of the statutory development plan). So, it is really worth getting involved in the process of drawing it up (albeit with the usual health warning that we attach to getting involved in any planning process).
The National Planning Framework is the plan that sets out the policies and proposals for development and land use. It will now most likely be the biggest influence on housing in Scotland as it is to set housing targets, with which your own Local Development plan will be required to conform (bye bye local democracy). It will be important for other controversial developments too. Read more about why it is an important document regarding the fracking ban here.
There are new provisions in the new planning act that require the Government to have regard for climate change policies and to assess the impact of any of the national developments on the climate. We must hold the Government to account on these and make sure the work of Planning Democracy with Scottish Environment LINK to get them included was worthwhile.
The process is starting now. You will be able to find out where and when you can ‘participate’ in the preparation of the NPF4 by checking out the participation statement that the Scottish Government are required to publish before they begin (soon).
To keep abreast of things you could sign up to the regular blogs from the Government. They will likely complete the consultation on NPF4 and drafting of the document by Sept 2020. It will then go to the Scottish Parliament where it will be scrutinised by various committees and then is required to be passed by Parliament before being adopted in 2021. (Please note that this is now a longer period of parliamentary scrutiny than previously required and the need for it to be approved by a resolution of the Parliament is thanks to pressure from ourselves and other organisations within Scottish Environment LINK).
Housing Vision 2040 and Labours Housing Proposals.
This week Scottish Labour brought out new proposals for their housing policies, which may well end up in their manifesto for the 2021 election. You can read our comments about them and what we think are missing in this Common Space article.
Also, for your attention is the Housing 2040 vision which you might want to feed into. My policy conference speech briefly indicates some of the more fundamental changes we need to see if we are to really tackle the housing crisis. Laurie Macfarlane is an economist with the New Economics Foundation. He has written some interesting articles about this and the unearned benefits of rising land prices that landowners gain without lifting a finger. He quotes Winston Churchill from a famous speech to Parliament in 1909
“Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”
If you want to understand how we stop the relentless build of more and more estates full of executive housing on greenfield sites, it’s worth taking time to try and get your head around land and the economy.
Some of the things McFarlane proposes could be game changing and perhaps should be incorporated into the thinking on how to deliver the housing 2040 vision. Certainly, it should help to dismantle the power and monopoly of the volume house builders. However in my opinion more thinking needs to be done about how we can do this whilst still delivering on climate change and making sure that we enhance nature rather than destroy or diminish it.