The management of the ‘A’-level results has been a total shambles, a case study in public policy and Government incompetence.
The objectives and actions of the Government and Ofqual were totally understandable – establishing a credible, robust system that reflected students’ ability while avoiding grade inflation. The problem was that using a national algorithm, however it was set up, was always going to throw up huge numbers of individual cases of unfairness and injustice.
What relevance does this have for our planning system? Well, everything. Just one week before the ‘A’-level debacle, the Government published its Planning Policy White Paper, with the big idea of nationally-set local housing requirements across the country. The localism infrastructure put in place by Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps will be completely dismantled.
The paper is silent on how they will arrive at the new figures for each council – https://www.planoraks.com/posts-1/national-housing-plan-a-really-radical-idea – we will have to wait for the new algorithm or process.
The Government has been undermining the high principles of localism by stealth, from the day localism was conceived. In 2018, the May Government established a standard methodology to establish housing needs, adding further pressure on local councils to increase supply.
On the same day as the publication of the Planning White Paper, in a much lower-key announcement, the Government slipped out another change to the current way it assesses local housing needs – https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-current-planning-system. It gives an indication into Government thinking on where new development should go. You might think in this new era of levelling up that the focus of growth would be in the new ‘Red Wall’ seats of the North, but it doesn’t quite work out that way.
Yorkshire and Humberside, for example, which currently plans to deliver 19,335 homes a year will see that reduced to 17,870 under the Government’s new methodology. London, on the other hand, will see its current plan requirements more than doubled from 42,000 to 92,000 a year.
In a great piece of work – https://lichfields.uk/grow-renew-protect-planning-for-the-future/how-many-homes-the-new-standard-method/#section14 – the good people in Lichfields have crunched the figures on a local authority by local authority basis which show even more stark changes.
So in Darlington, for example, (a seat once held by Labour’s Alan Milburn with over 60% of the vote but which is now in Tory hands) the housing plan requirements are reduced from 434 to 253 a year. Whereas in Dominic Raab’s constituency in Elmbridge, the housing requirements increase from 225 to 775 a year. So much for levelling up. There are similar large increases across London and the South East, many with Conservative councils and MPs who will be in the frontline of any residents backlash.
The housebuilding industry has generally welcomed the Government’s White Paper, including the proposal to limit the role of Councillors and the public in planning applications. It provides more certainty, more permissions and more profit.
However, the problem is that if Government (and industry) fail to make the case for new homes and win over hearts and minds, there will be a backlash from middle England similar to the one we have seen this week on ‘A’-levels. And when that’s followed by the inevitable political U-turn and climb down, the industry will be left with the chaos and mayhem that Universities now face following the ‘A’-level fiasco. Indeed, it might even undermine the slow and steady pressure that the Government has been applying on local councils to increase the numbers over the last few years.
It rather poses the questions: Are the proposed changes necessary? Will they be worth it? And is it a battle that anyone really wants?