‘Planning reform won’t fix our problems – let’s build back better and greener’

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister made a speech setting out how the Government plans to offset the economic impact of coronavirus, with investment in infrastructure, house building and planning reforms.

Having floundered in his handling of the pandemic, Boris Johnson is clearly keen to deflect attention by talking about his so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda.

He has claimed the proposals amount to a ‘new deal’, attempting to draw a comparison with 1930s US President Franklin D Roosevelt. But in reality, most of the measures are plans that already existed and are being rehashed or brought forward. There was little idea on how to address our country’s looming jobs crisis.

As well as infrastructure projects, (many of them pretty small-scale), the Prime Minister unveiled a series of reforms to the planning system. These changes will, among other things, reduce the role of local planning and remove the requirement for many developments to apply for planning permission. I fear this will undermine local democracy and reduce the quality, environmental sustainability and genuine affordability of homes and buildings. It will also help developers avoid paying the community infrastructure levy toward local facilities like playgrounds and schools.

The Tories have received £11 million in donations from property developers since Boris Johnson became the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, so soon after the Robert Jenrick cash-for-favours scandal, the PM’s plans for scrapping planning regulations seem more likely to help big-money housing developers and billionaire Tory donors abuse the planning system, rather than benefiting homeowners and renters.

The announcement on affordable homes commits no new money – and in fact stretches the same £12 billion committed in March to be spent over 8 years instead of 5 – a real terms cut. It includes no definition for affordable housing.

Rather than slashing regulations to benefit developers, the government should be focusing on the millions of people who are unlikely ever to own a home, or the many key workers who have been stuck for years on social housing waiting lists. And as the Government continues to fail to meet the challenge of the climate emergency, they should be investing in high-quality, truly affordable homes which are well insulated and energy efficient, helping to meet our zero-carbon emissions targets.

We need a focus on refurbishment and retrofitting, as well as building to high quality and environmental standards – including fulfilling the commitment to insulation in the Government’s 2017 Clean Growth Strategy.

Everyone should have a decent home which is affordable, safe, well-built and low carbon. Homes should be connected to community facilities, green and open space and good jobs. They should use environmentally sustainable materials and provide good jobs and apprenticeships. Johnson’s plan fails on all counts.

Labour are urging the Government to deliver an emergency ‘Back to Work Budget’ with an emphasis on ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ to address the immediate employment crisis. We will also be putting forward detailed proposals as to how we can truly ‘Build Back Better’, including by kick-starting a green recovery by creating environmentally sustainable jobs and homes.

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