Sounds about right

We are, quite simply, living in the past. The current planning system is incompatible with tackling the housing crisis – one of the most pressing social policy problems of our age, particularly in a place like the Thames Valley. Our housing shortage is acute and requires intervention from politicians with passion and verve. Be clear, this is a crisis – and it needs a generation of leaders willing to command public opinion, not just react to opinion polls.

As I’ve been shouting over at the ASI for some years now the only viable solution I see is the simple blowing up of the whole system. Repeal the Town and Country Planning Act(s) and return to the free for all of the 1930s.

26 thoughts on “Sounds about right”

  1. It’s a death by a thousand paper cuts. The current system has grown from permission being granted with a single page of A4 to a hundred page document listing everything from what plants you’ll put in the garden to where the builders will park during the works. Each addition has been well meaning, but the end result is bureaucratic stodge and almost politician proof.

    What is needed is a move away from having to prove our innocence towards an assumption that if we must build (and in many places, we must), we should do so to the best of our abilities. The planning system should favour and encourage great building, rather than punishing and forcing a regression to the mean. Unlocking land for the best candidates should inspire better design and establish the principle that good buildings are desirable – rather than the current situation where any building is treated as a regrettable outcome.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    Andy – “Unlocking land for the best candidates should inspire better design and establish the principle that good buildings are desirable – rather than the current situation where any building is treated as a regrettable outcome.”

    How about a change so that anyone can build whatever they like, but every year the local residents hold a vote and can vote to knock down one building.

    That way lots of buildings go up. But everyone has an incentive not to build ugly or annoy the neighbours.

  3. This sounds rather undemocratic. I suspect most people (or at least most homeowners, who form a majority of active voters) are glad that their neighbours can’t build a five-storey mansion in their back garden.

    That’s not to say the current system is perfect – as Andy says above, it’s perhaps too prescriptive. But the general principle of not building anything anywhere is popular.

  4. Well, here’s an idea: how about not having everything being about London? Take housing benefit down to the level where you get paid to live in say, Wolverhampton. Employers will now have to find the rest if they want a cleaner in London. Or, maybe, they’ll move somewhere cheaper. Then tax people more locally. If you’ve got to pay a fortune for a nurse or fireman in London, why should people in Wolverhampton cough up for it? And while you’re at it, stop giving £3bn a year to London Transport.

  5. “Take housing benefit down to the level where you get paid to live in say, Wolverhampton.”

    There isn’t enough money in the world

  6. Nice idea. But you have a housing market based on the notion; owning a house is an investment in a rare & precious commodity. Increase supply & the investment premium disappears from the price. Any one want to guess what that is for the South East? Could the financial system survive the abrupt disappearance of that amount of value?

  7. Abandoning leasehold in favour of freehold would sort a certain amount of these problems out. Other countries have perfectly adequate mechanisms to own a flat, and this would support the building of more and better high rises, taking the weight out of the urban centre’s housing issues.

    There’s no need to destroy the value of all homes as part of the solution to housing shortages that are local in nature.

  8. If students had to live at home while studying (except for those on specialist courses not covered at their local ex-poly – and dearieme is entitled to point out that all his courses are specialist), it would free up quarter of a million houses for “working families”.
    One of the reasons for the housing shortage that led to a 194% rise (yes, that means Y was 294% of X) in the price of housing in the first ten years of the Blair government was his stupid crusade to have 50% of all teenagers going to university without having anywhere for the students to live while they were there.

  9. Conservatives suddenly turn into hardcore socialists when the issue of central planning of land use comes up. Hence the political difficulty of any reform.

    Maybe you should just have a system in which anyone seeking to build something must get permission from neighbouring property owners, with whom they could negotiate compensation or whatever. Have a fast track civil court system for changes of use.

    We really should start from the principle that asking the State to decide is a bad idea and what has led us into this mess.

  10. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Very few people welcome the building of more homes in their immediate area. The government and local authorities recognise this. However if you bother to look more closely you will notice houses are going up all around you, on every available patch of ground, brown field and green field alike. The powers to be are keeping their heads down, ignoring the NIMBYs, and just getting on with it. They would be building even faster, but there are only so many brickies to go around.

  11. @ Ian B
    Cameron did actually propose that (or an attempt) in 2010, but got shouted down by vested interests.

  12. Bernie G: “However if you bother to look more closely you will notice houses are going up all around you, on every available patch of ground, brown field and green field alike. The powers to be are keeping their heads down, ignoring the NIMBYs, and just getting on with it. “

    And we can see the result:

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport/victoria-station-a-crowded-hellhole-after-thousands-of-commuters-ignore-tfl-warning-a3199056.html

    Building houses without increasing the infrastructure that supports those houses is madness. As anyone who has played any type of city-building game could tell you.

  13. “Maybe you should just have a system in which anyone seeking to build something must get permission from neighbouring property owners, with whom they could negotiate compensation or whatever. Have a fast track civil court system for changes of use”

    As someone who is about to lose a significant amount of light, due to the extension our neighbour is building, I would go along with this proposal. Thanks to “Permitted Development”, and discovering too late that “Right To Light” does still have a bearing on this, I have no option but to watch the bricks go up. If it was set back from the party boundary, or constructed of translucent material I wouldn’t mind. I suggest that anyone who advocates unrestricted development has never been (or is likely to be) affected by it, or is happy to be included in the 60% of the population who don’t speak to their neighbours.

  14. @ Dave Ward
    You should have been notified of a planning application that could have affected you.

  15. “You should have been notified of a planning application that could have affected you”

    Wrong – under “Permitted Development” certain works can be carried out WITHOUT needing planning permission (look it up). In my case (up to the party boundary) it allows construction as much as 3mtrs out, and 3 mtrs up to the eaves from existing buildings. Our dining room faces West, and this extension is immediately South of the window, meaning we will no longer see the sun during 4-5 months over winter, and only later in the afternoon during summer. When he told me of his intentions last year I asked if he would incorporate an obscured glass window to (hopefully) allow some light through. He said he “would think about it”, and I hoped for the best. But last week he informed me work would be starting, and said no window would be included as “the builders said it wouldn’t make any difference” – they denied this when I spoke to them. Comments & discussions I found at the time said that “Permitted Development” overrules “Ancient Rights To Light”. But it was only a few days ago I discovered that these (even in their recently watered down form) would still apply In my situation. Short of taking out an injunction at a probable cost of £10k + I can do nothing to stop him. This is the reality of saying “Tear up the Planning Regulations” if you happen to be personally affected. The extension will undoubtedly increase the value of his property, and quite probably reduce that of mine, when I come to move, but again, there’s no comeback short of expensive legal action. Suffice to say, I’m unlikely to remain on friendly terms with our neighbour, a pattern that is repeating all over the country.

  16. @ Dave Ward
    So you admit that you were told. You just didn’t take any appropriate action.
    If I look up “Permitted Development” it states that a neighbourhood consultation scheme was introduced – so you should have been consulted under “Permitted Development” rules. You could have objected.

  17. “From 30 May 2013, for a period of six years only, the Government has increased the size of single-storey rear extensions that can be built under permitted development, and has brought into force the associated neighbour consultation scheme.

    Single-storey rear extensions:
    For a temporary period householders will be able to build larger single-storey rear extensions under permitted development. The size limits will double from 4 metres to 8 metres for detached houses, and from 3 metres to 6 metres for all other houses. These measurements must be taken from the rear elevation of the original house as originally built

    The Neighbour Consultation Scheme:
    These new larger extensions (ie. if they extend between 4 and 8 metres, or between 3 and 6 metres) must go through the following process”

    His extension does not project more than 3 metres, so the consultation scheme (and my right to object) does not apply.

  18. @ Dave Ward
    So his extension was permitted under previous rules? So the new rules make zero difference? [Also, single-storey and less than 10 feet wide so only shadowing part of your dining room.]
    My original comment related to Common Law not planning regulations – if someone was acting in a way that affected your rights you had a right to be informed.

  19. I like the way Tim goes all in on classical liberalism.

    Plenty of people will admit the houses built in the 30s, especially the tree-lined suburban semis with large gardens, are great. But they don’t want any new ones. And in areas where there are lots of jobs you get the empiricism-free claim that it’s a plus that housing space is restricted and expensive because it deters immigration.

  20. @ Henry Marsh
    We do want new ones.
    My wife and I shall never shop in the new local AsDa because it has taken a site that would otherwise have been used for social housing (adjacent to a former council housing estates a few of whose new owners did not want new council houses near them). If I don’t like Tesco I can walk to the next town which has a Sainsbury (and a Waitrose).
    There is a horrendous housing shortage locally so rents can exceed £1,000 a month and I am willing to cough up a few extra pence a day to make our point.

  21. “So his extension was permitted under previous rules? So the new rules make zero difference?”

    <3mtrs out, <3mtrs up to eaves – no planning permission needed, so no requirement for notification. As far as I can tell, one could go away for few days and return to find an extension completed!

    “Also, single-storey and less than 10 feet wide so only shadowing part of your dining room”

    As I explained earlier, it will block out the sun for the time of year when it’s most needed. If the situation was reversed, and the wall was on the Northern side it would make little difference. In my book, still receiving a proportion of indirect light does not compensate for something we’ve enjoyed for 47 years. I contacted a specialist law firm, and they wanted £995 just to come out and do a survey, with no guarantee it would make any difference!

    “Common Law not planning regulations”

    If this does have any bearing on such matters it’s certainly not well known, or publicised. A conversation with my local council planning dept lasted all of 1 minute, once I mentioned permitted development. If you simply “Blow up the whole system” (as Tim suggests) then you’ll eventually have a country where everybody is at war with their neighbours. I can feel some sympathy for builders and developers who try hard to satisfy everybody. But how can it be right that councils frequently spend large sums of (taxpayers) money pursuing people who conceal a house inside a farm building (it happened round here), or the guy who built a mock castle hidden by straw bales, yet fail to take any action when a developer “accidentally” cuts down several trees at 7 o’clock one morning? Yes, the system IS broken, but as usual in this country we never seem to get a sensible compromise. I was already looking to “downsize” before this matter arose – thereby freeing up a 3 bedroom house for a family who could make better use of it. But now I realise that I could end up in an even worse situation somewhere else.

  22. @ Dave Ward
    “Right to Light” is covered by Common Law, he is infringing your rights. Find an honest lawyer.

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