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House-building strategy shift ‘recipe for disaster’

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Home builders and planners have warned of a hiatus in house building after ministers told councils they could disregard housing targets imposed under the outgoing government’s regional planning system.

In a letter to council leaders, communities secretary Eric Pickles reiterated his intention to scrap regional spatial strategies (RSSs) and hand decisions on planning and housing supply to local planning authorities “without the framework of regional numbers”.

He said councils should regard his letter as a “material planning consideration in any decisions they are currently taking”, pending the introduction of legislation to scrap the RSSs as part of the forthcoming Decentralisation and Localism Bill.

In response, Conservative-led South Oxfordshire DC said it would suspend work on its “core strategy”, a framework that sets out plans for development in its area over a 20-year period, which feeds into the RSS. The council said it was “delighted” Mr Pickles had acted so quickly.

But Stewart Baseley, Home Builders Federation executive chairman, said the move to scrap RSSs before putting a new system in place could prove a “recipe for disaster” and called for “urgent clarity” on planning policy.

“The government says it’s committed to delivering more homes, but without urgent guidance, this aspiration cannot be achieved,” he said.

Ann Skippers, Royal Town Planning Institute president, said the “hasty abolition” of RSSs could cause a strategic “vacuum” that could put the economic recovery at risk.

“It is vital to have a level of strategic planning between local councils and national government to ensure proper co-ordination across council boundaries,” she said.

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