Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why no Houses?

The front page of the Telegraph castigates John Prescott for planning guidance that more homes should be built on less land, leading to an explosion of flat building at the expense of constructing houses for families. The idea of PPG3, as it is called, is to increase the housing density in town centres, which takes pressure off the Green Belt but has the effect on skewing housebuilders towards building flats. Now there is apparently an oversupply of flats and an undersupply of houses. Of course there is an undersupply of new homes in general, hence the current crazy house prices.

The Telegraph piece was right as far as it goes, but it totally missed the point when it comes to Prescott messing up planning. Land used to be allocated for building via an easy-to-understand and reasonably straightforward local plan process. Prescott replaced this with a process called the Local Development Framework, a hideously complex and enormously lengthy exercise that requires about an hour just to explain, with diagrams. Completing the framework takes years, and those Councils that have successfully negotiated the obstacle course have found themselves in the High Court because in addition to being complex and time-consuming the process is also badly designed and easy for interested parties to challenge.

Here in Basildon we are doing an LDF, which means we won’t be allocating any new land for housing until 2009 at the absolute earliest and it will probably be much later than that. Every local authority in the country is in the same boat, so next time you hear the government whinging about nimby local authorities bear in mind that the same government has added years to the process of housing land allocation. You could even suspect Machiavellian motives at this point: fewer new houses equals higher house prices equals economic growth pumped from remortgages.

Or maybe they just screwed up.

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