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BARKER REVIEW: 'USEFUL POINTERS, BUT ANALYSIS OF PLANNING NEEDS A RE-THINK'

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Kate Barker's interim review of housing supply (see ...
Kate Barker's interim review of housing supply (see LGCnet), is a searching analysis of housing issues where important questions are raised, particularly the need to unlock the huge potential for urban regeneration, but her analysis of the planning system needs rethinking, says the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Henry Oliver, CPRE's head of planning and local government, said: 'CPRE welcomes acknowledgement of the importance of environmental considerations in the housing debate; England is, after all, the most built-up nation in Europe.

'And the analysis of the house builders' reluctance to use the sites they already have permission for echoes our own conclusions. We look to the final report to suggest ways in which this could be addressed.'

CPRE has concerns about certain aspects of Barker's interim analysis, however. Mr Oliver continued: 'With the Urban Task Force and recent reforms to planning policy to prioritise the re-use of brownfield land, the government has appeared to recognise the opportunity for a win-win approach to housing: protecting the environment, improving urban life and providing the housing we need. Yet Barker appears to challenge that understanding, implying that greenfield sprawl and environmental damage are the inevitable consequences of meeting our housing needs. We disagree.

'There are also practical questions about the report. For example, while the need for housing is identified at 39,000 extra units a year, it's suggested that to reduce house price inflation to 1.1% would require 145,000 extra new homes a year, roughly doubling supply - something that is technically and politically unrealistic, if not impossible, and which would lead to devastating loss of countryside.

'Barker's analysis of the planning system contains some significant weaknesses. It's wrong to talk of 'sanctions' and 'incentives' in relation to local authorities bringing forward new housing su pply. Local authorities can and do facilitate the identification of sites to accommodate housing need, but for many years now local government has had little or no role in actually providing new housing.'

He concluded: 'Planning is far too important, and delivers far too many benefits to society as a whole, to be undermined or dismissed on the basis of mistaken assumptions or analysis. The biggest issue is not a shortage of land or sites, but a lack of will and resources to fill empty homes, regenerate brownfield land and finance delivery of the affordable housing that is sorely needed. We hope that Kate Barker's final report will make recommendations to address these challenges.'

NOTES

1. Kate Barker, a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, was commissioned by The Treasury and ODPM in March 2003 to review obstacles to the supply of housing. Review of Housing Supply Securing our Future Housing needs contains her interim analysis.

2. CPRE exists to promote the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England by encouraging the sustainable use of land and other natural resources in town and country. We promote positive solutions for the long-term future of the countryside to ensure change values its natural and built environment. Our Patron is Her Majesty The Queen. We have 59,000 supporters, a branch in every county, eight regional groups, over 200 local groups and a national office in London. CPRE is a powerful combination of effective local action and strong national campaigning. The president is Sir Max Hastings.

3. Only the Netherlands has a higher population density than England. But while between 10 and 11% of England is built up, according to government statistics, the percentage of the Netherlands that is built up is only 9.4%.

4. According to CPRE's most recent analysis, the 15 major house builders declare - in their annual or interim reports to shareholders - that they have land sufficient for 310,262 homes. This is land they are confident of being able to build on, either because they have outline planning permission or better. The number of housing plots in their landbanks has risen by 31% since 1998.

5. The Urban Task Force under Lord Rogers reported in 1999 and an Urban White Paper was published in 2000. Planning Policy Guidance note 3 Housing (2000) requires a sequential approach to allocation of sites for housing, starting with previously developed urban land and buildings. It also requires local authorities to review their greenfield allocation and if necessary withdraw sites, and apply maximum parking provision and minimum housing density standards.

6. Kate Barker states that 'local authorities face few sanctions if they fail to provide the housing numbers allocated by RPG' and 'costs and benefits [of development] are not accurately reflected in the incentives offered to and pressures faced by decision makers' (page 12, paragraph 23).

7. Fewer than 14,000 units of social housing (for households on low incomes) were completed in 2002 in England. Through most years of the 1970s the output of social housing was running at more than 100,000 units a year, but it has been in decline ever since.

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