Thursday, September 06, 2012

So much for the Local Plan

According to a story in todays Western Gazette, one observation by one planning inspector is threatening to spanner the whole planning process for South Somerset. The local council has spent years trying to develop a local plan which, ironically, has had most opposition from people suggesting it over-estimated the need for new housing. A government inspector has now announced she reckons they're 5000 homes short. There's speculation that it could lead to a development free-for-all in the area.

Personally I'd rather have the Council leading the process of building and developing new communities, with suitable planning for facilities, infrastructure etc. (even if they have made a mess of this at times in the past), rather than a developer or (in Yeovils case) an Oxford college, whose prime concern will be maximising revenue. They don't have to live with the consequences, we do.

Maybe East Coker will suddenly swing behind the council plan now, if this is the alternative. I just find it bizarre that one comment from one government official could create such disruption and uncertainty.

All this on the day the government announces plans to loosen up planning laws so as to jump-start the housing market. With average prices still 9-10 times the average income, I really can't see any planning reform making that happen. 15 years ago, prices were only 3x the average income. At the same time, they're cutting the requirment for social housing, as waiting lists grow and (with the changes to housing benefit) this is only going to get worse. Unless the homeless are all going to lodge in these new conservatories that the middle classes will build, I really can't see the logic of the proposals.

There is a case for making things quicker - I'm aware of a couple of local cases where Somerset County Council's involvement has slowed things down considerably. But it would be better to bring everything under one planning authority, rather than scrap the planning rules entirely.

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