9th June 2015 •
Last month, Greg Clark was named successor to Eric Pickles as Communities Secretary. You might have felt the huge gust of wind as Planners everywhere sighed with relief...
Pickles, who singlehandedly blocked the development of around 10,000 new homes ahead of the election, is unlikely to be missed, as Clark – the champion of the northern powerhouse strategy and advocate of local council power – takes over.
In the last 5 years, Pickles was heavily involved in the rewriting of planning policy, with guidelines which allow house builders to sidestep their responsibilities to build social housing or contribute their profits so that other organisations or housing associations might do so instead. His staunch protection of the Green Belt was at the cost of housing for a large amount of the population.
Having previously served as planning and decentralisation minister between the years 2010-2012, Greg Clark is likely to play a huge part in the consolidation of localisation/devolution within planning. With the commitment to get more people on the housing ladder hanging over his head - in the wake of the manifesto pledge to permit tenants of Housing Associations to buy their properties - Clark faces a challenge when it comes to resolving the difficult relationship between neighbourhood and strategic planning.
The likelihood of any significant policy upheaval is slim, not owing exclusively to Clark's legacy and involvement in the formulation of the National Policy Planning Framework. Indeed, it is widely assumed that the approach to planning policy will be one which is less combative.
The Conservatives have also pledged to "ensure that local people have more control over planning", which is likely to hint at a continuation of neighbourhood planning. Clark's new position is tipped to prompt a roll-out of the "bottom-up" planning which was first envisaged 5 years ago. Designed to provide local people with the power to engage in local planning, this "bottom-up" strategy mandates all local authorities to use their collective methods to draw up their local plans. To date, over 1000 communities have begun a neighbourhood plan.
The commitment to ensure that 90% of suitable brownfield sites have planning for housing by 2020 means that the role of local councils in allocating suitable development land will become crucial. In the words of Greg Clark himself: "Councils are significant landowners and town halls should be looking at their estate, particularly brownfield sites, and thinking about how they could make better use of their holdings by releasing land for new homes for their communities."
In order to fill the government target of 150,000 homes by 2020, Clark will need to draw on England's 326 councils to provide new plots. The introduction of the new government transparency code means that councils are now forced to provide their property and asset registers. The Housing Bill, announced in the Queen's speech, means that local authorities will need to establish and maintain a register of brownfield land which is suitable for housing development – including their own land.
The government shows signs of recognising the housing crisis and many argue that the appointment of Clark comes at an opportune moment to take responsibility for the effects of many of the planning policies he was instrumental in implementing. As the one responsible for the only rise in planning fees in the last seven years, Clark seems to be a welcome presence within the Department for Communities and Local Government, at least among Planners.
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