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Better Homes, Greener Cities

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  • John
    For those interested a recent report from the Policy Exchange Think Tank called: Better Homes, Greener Cities. Planning is heavy in the report. The Link:
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 11, 2006
      For those interested a recent report from the Policy Exchange Think
      Tank called:
      Better Homes, Greener Cities. Planning is heavy in the report.

      The Link:

      For those interested a recent report from the Policy Exchange Think
      Tank called:
      Better Homes, Greener Cities. Planning is heavy in the report.

      Here is the Conclusions and Recommendations of the report

      Over the past 50 years town planning has lost sight of its
      original objectives, those of providing decent homes and
      a decent living environment for the people of Britain.
      Particular groups have been able to get policies favourable
      to themselves adopted because the economic costs they
      impose on others have not been seen. So, as we have just
      said, Green Belts – which were intended to be relatively
      narrow and primarily used for recreation – were put in
      place and expanded in width, but continued to be used
      for farming. The shire counties used Green Belts to hold
      back the influence of the nearby city. The recreational
      uses disappeared and the Green Belts became green
      blankets – or more accurately green barriers – designed to
      keep urban inhabitants from spoiling the lives of those
      living in the countryside. And often they were not even
      very green, i.e. not places of `unspoilt' nature but of
      industrialised and intensive agriculture.

      Development came to be increasingly restricted, so that
      everywhere controls were imposed to prevent what was
      labelled `urban sprawl' – a settlement pattern that we now
      know provides the best foundations for an environmentally
      friendly and healthy lifestyle. In consequence land
      prices rose, and house prices too, as demand increased but
      the supply of land did not. The increase certainly gratified
      existing house owners, but they failed to realise that what
      they were getting for their money, as generation succeeded
      generation, was both more expensive and smaller. So, in the
      end, Britons found themselves with the smallest, oldest and
      most expensive new homes in Western Europe.

      In our report we have shown that there are ways to
      improve this situation. We believe that it is possible for
      Britons to enjoy stable house prices, affordable accommodation,
      green cities and modern, spacious houses –
      very much like their neighbours on the continent. To sum
      up, we believe that two major sets of reforms are required
      to tackle Britain's housing crisis. The first is reform of the
      planning system itself:

      • Planning is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
      Therefore we think it is necessary to get rid of the
      presumption of plan-led development. Development
      must be possible where it is necessary, and it should not
      be impossible just because it was not previously envisaged
      in the plan.

      • Planning should include land buffers which could
      easily be activated when more land is needed than the
      amount that was thought necessary at the time the plan
      was set up.

      • The presumption of a right to development should be
      introduced into planning. It would then be necessary
      for the authorities to demonstrate why development
      was undesirable and not the other way around.

      • The economic benefits of development should be
      recognised to a far greater degree as a material factor in
      the planning process.

      • The planning system should be localised, with local
      authorities being placed in charge of densities, brown
      vs. green field ratios, design codes and Green Belt
      designation, with freedom to vary the Social Cost Tariff
      downwards if they wish to `go for growth'.

      • The planning system should be made more flexible,
      with greater freedom to change between planning
      designations and an extension of permitted development

      The second set of reforms should be applied to the
      existing fiscal incentives and the system of local government

      • VAT should be equalised at 5 per cent for both new
      building and refurbishment.

      • Local authorities should be confronted with the
      results of their planning activities through budgets
      that reflect the degree of development in the local
      community. This can be achieved through either
      more local taxes (e.g. a localised income tax) or
      government grants directly linked to local population
      figures or tax revenues. This will shift the
      balance between local and central taxation and
      budgets, but it should not increase the overall level of
      taxation as such.

      • Receipts from existing taxes associated with new
      development, such as Council Tax and business rates,
      should be hypothecated to the local authority.

      • Formalised Section 106 agreements could give an extra
      incentive to local communities to allow development.

      • The introduction of a system of Social Cost Tariffs
      would provide an even better incentive, and compensate
      local communities for their loss of amenity. They
      would internalise the costs of development, provide an
      incentive to `go for growth' and be entirely retained
      locally. Social Cost Tariffs would replace all other
      charges associated with new development, including
      Section 106 agreements.

      In this paper we have put forward a number of proposals
      to try to free up the planning process in Britain. The aim
      is to make it more responsive to the needs and demands
      of the population as a whole. And while this book has
      made a number of technical and legislative proposals to
      bring about the required change, we must not lose sight
      of why this change is needed. A localised, incentivised
      planning system will bring many benefits – more affordable
      homes, better neighbourhoods, less pressure on
      social housing – benefits that our centralised planning
      system has failed, and will continue to fail, to deliver.
      There is a challenge for house builders too. A leap in the
      supply in housing must not mean more boring boxes in
      drab neighbourhoods. Their goal must be diversity,
      innovation and a real desire to satisfy communities'

      What has been provided over the past 30 or 40 years
      has increasingly diverged from this. As we demonstrated
      in our first paper, we have had a Soviet style centrally
      planned system of housing provision imposed on us
      because it suits various interests. And we know from our
      experience with the Soviet Union how successful a
      centrally planned economy can be in providing what
      consumers want! Our hope is that it is not too late to

      50 www.policyexchange.org.uk
      Better Homes, Greener Cities
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