How does developer-led planning work?
- First, lobby the Government to put in place a growth at all costs planning framework that makes it a ridiculously easy business to extol the benefits of any and all building.
- Second, work to ensure that planning departments are thoroughly captured by developers’ assumptions about the central place of profiteering in delivering housing. This is helped by a revolving door between planning departments and planning consultants.
- Third, make sure developers are represented right at the heart of strategic planning, as in Cornwall Council’s Private Developers’ Forum or the panel that drew up the Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment.
- Fourth, encourage friends in high places to send in planning inspectors to find for developers on appeal and ‘examine’ Local Plans in order to ramp up housing targets (based on faulty and flawed data in the Cornish case).
With all this in place, the dice thoroughly loaded in favour of the developers and a complicit and feeble response from the vast bulk of elected councillors you wouldn’t think anything else would be required. You’d be wrong because if all that fails then developers can still resort to strong-arm tactics and bullying.
Take Linden Homes’ plan to build 28 houses at Swanpool, Falmouth. This was refused by Cornwall Council in July last year by a unanimous vote. Linden Homes duly appealed, the appeal being currently in progress. In November Cornwall’s planners may have been surprised to receive another application for exactly the same scheme (PA15/10410). This was accompanied by a letter from Linden Homes’ agents Collier Planning of Taunton, the blustering tone of which many would describe as extremely threatening.
The letter asserted that Cornwall Council had ‘failed to make adequate provision for housing through planning permissions and the Local Plan’. Increasing the housing target over the historic trend was clearly not enough to mollify Linden Homes, which was already calling for more than 57,000 houses back in 2011, a 30% jump on the existing rate.
The letter continued: ‘urgent action is required to ensure that the homes that are needed by the Cornish communities [sic] are actually delivered in a timely manner … the supply is clearly inadequate to meet the need and backlog of need’.
Given this sad state of affairs, Linden Homes was stepping philanthropically into the breach and offering a scheme that would make ‘a significant contribution towards meeting the clear and identified urgent need for affordable housing in the locality’. Even though its plans only add seven social rented houses and four discounted, so-called ‘affordable’, homes to the stock at Falmouth.
Collier Planning then got tough. The letter goes on to warn the Council that costs will be applied for if the appeal is upheld. They’re furious that elected councillors had the temerity to overturn the advice of their own planning officer, who had tamely recommended approval. This fact, plus the rigged planning framework, does indeed mean that Cornwall Council is odds on to lose the appeal.
But Linden’s planning agents offer councillors a way out. The new application provides the council with ‘an opportunity to approve it, without delay, and avoid the appeal having to proceed to a hearing and the intended application for costs having to be made.’
Is there really any point any more in having any democratic scrutiny of developers’ plans? Why not hand the planning department over entirely to developers and save some money? This actually seems to be the Government’s intention. The Housing and Planning Bill currently going through Parliament introduces mysterious ‘designated persons’ who can decide on planning applications rather than local authorities. Although why they’ll be needed when another clause institutes automatic planning permission for previously dedicated sites is beyond me.
P.S. Linden Homes is part of Galliford Try, which posted a record pre-tax profit of £114m in 2015, up 20 per cent on 2014.