Opinion: Dismantling of planning system continues apace, by Chris Brown

The consultation on National Planning Policy Framework amendments has now closed, but the Orwellian process of amendment has only just begun.

Ministers will now be starting to make the political calculations about what they can get away with in making changes this time. They say they want to introduce a presumption in favour of residential development for all existing buildings (which is how the NPPF currently misdefines previously developed or brownfield land - disuse, dereliction or contamination are not part of the definition). The devil will be in the detail here in relation to balancing other issues such as contamination, conservation areas, flood risk and the like.

This change would make permitted development rights for change of use of offices to residential, and Starter Homes on employment land, look like minor distractions, particularly as residential is the highest-value use almost everywhere. It also makes the registers of brownfield land, proposed in the Housing and Planning Bill to get automatic permission in principle, something of a sideshow, assuming that the regulations will use a definition of brownfield that is closer to contaminated and disused reality. But, in Orwellian 2016, perhaps that is a dangerous assumption.

The government's direction of travel, the dismantling of the planning system by a thousand cuts to release untrammelled market forces, is as clear as the negative impact of this, through market failure, on the planet, society and the economy. We can see market failure at work in areas like Nine Elms in London: residential oversupply, increasing market volatility, workspace, community and cultural spaces disappearing and rents for the remaining non-residential space rising, pricing out smaller businesses and organisations.

This could be bad news for big housebuilders. While planning permissions on previously developed land (which generally they don't own), office, industrial and distribution parks in particular, become easier to obtain, suddenly their greenfield land banks are devalued by the potential oversupply. In London, where 97 per cent of development is on previously developed land, the 50 per cent of employment land supply protected by Strategic Industrial Land designations, much of which is already under pressure in places such as Bermondsey, Tottenham, Hackney Wick/Fish Island and Park Royal, will disappear like snow in summer.

In this ideological battle between the opponents of government failure and the opponents of market failure, evidence-based policy-making, rational debate, the economy, the planet and society are the civilian casualties.

Chris Brown is executive chairman of developer Igloo Regeneration.


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