Lords Committee criticises Government’s ‘short-sighted’ planning policies – National Trust reaction

A cross-party Committee of the House of Lords has today criticised the Government’s housing and planning policy as ‘short-sighted’ and has said that the drive for more homes must not come at the expense of quality.

View north over the Palladian Bridge at Prior Park Landscape Garden, Bath, Somerset. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite.

View north over the Palladian Bridge at Prior Park Landscape Garden, Bath, Somerset. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite.

In a new report, published today, the House of Lords Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment has criticised the Government’s ‘quantity over quality’ approach and warns about risks to long-term, sustainable development.  It also stresses the importance of community and local authority empowerment.

The National Trust welcomes this report.  Like the Committee, we agree that we need more homes to be built – but finding the right places to put them, through a locally–led process, is also important, as is the quality of the buildings themselves.

We are concerned that the many changes to the planning system currently being proposed by the Government could make it harder to plan for the better places that the Committee calls for.  We hope that Government acts on the findings of this well-considered report, and makes clear its commitment to get good quality development, in the right places, through good planning.

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland we look after a quarter of a million hectares of land, 775 miles of coastline, and thousands of archaeological monuments and historic buildings.  Changes to the planning system can have a major effect on these places, so we’ve been closely following Government’s plans to change the planning system.

Today the Lords Committee on the National Policy for the Built Environment has published a report on its assessment of the Government’s housing policy.

Recommendations included in the report:

  • The Government should reconsider the proposal to include ‘starter homes’ within the definition of affordable housing as starter homes cease to include any element of affordability after five years.
  • The Government should reconsider additional elements of the Housing and Planning Bill which would undermine the maintenance of mixed communities.
  • The Government should appoint a Chief Built Environment Advisor to champion higher standards in the built environment across government departments.
  • The Government should reverse its decision to do away with the zero carbon homes requirement and Code for Sustainable Homes.
  • We need a new strategy for managing our historic built environment that recognises that our historic built environment is a ‘unique national and local asset, central to place-making’ and a ‘cultural and economic asset rather than an obstacle to successful future developments’.
  • The Government should make design review mandatory for all major planning applications, in order to offset the long-term burdens and costs of poor quality design.
  • Local Authority planning departments need to be better resourced and the planning profession needs to rediscover the prestige it once had. The Committee calls for more bursaries for planning students, and a greater emphasis on ‘proactive planning’ from local authorities.

Committee Chair Baroness O’Cathain said:

“Ensuring we have a better built environment in the coming decades is one of the key challenges facing government. It impacts on every area of our lives. The Government must now take that challenge seriously. We hope in responding to our report they will recognise that the drive for more homes must not come at the expense of quality. Everyone deserves a home but they also deserve a good quality home, in a good quality place, that meets their needs as individuals and families. We don’t think the Government’s policy as it stands will deliver that.”

The planning system, together with mechanisms such as the Green Belt, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation, conservation areas and the listing of buildings, has protected the best of our landscapes and the best of our heritage from inappropriate development and harm for nearly 70 years.  It has proved to be the most cost-effective and efficient way of protecting places of historic interest and natural beauty, like those within our care.

Next week we’ll be blogging about our response to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on proposed changes to National Planning Policy.  We’ve already expressed our concerns about Government proposals to change the National Planning Policy Framework in previous blogs on this site, see here and here.  We believe in the importance of local plan-led development to deliver the new homes we need in the most appropriate locations.

In the meantime, we welcome today’s report from the Lords Committee on the National Policy for the Built Environment and look forward to seeing the Government’s response in due course.

You can find out more about our views on land and landscape on our Places blog and on our website.

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