The planning system shambles

House planning in shambles - at - the best of the week's international financial media.

Panther Securities plc Chairman's Statement: Andrew Stewart Perloff

In the current climate with low interest rates and strong demand, builders and developers could easily provide more housing at lower cost more affordably for first time buyers. There is a popular misconception that there is insufficient land on which to build. This statement is utter rubbish. The only bottleneck is the incompetence in the planning process accompanied by local authorities' political correctness and their barely legal blackmail of developers with their ridiculous demands for money payments under section 106 agreements for social housing provision.

Ministers have shed bucket-loads of crocodile tears over the lack of suitable low cost housing for essential workers and first time buyers, and in an effort to shift the blame from themselves, commissioned a leading economist to report on the housing market.

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Before Kate Barker even put her pen to paper I knew what conclusion this government will take from her report TAX IT! this is of course not the answer to the problem.

An investigation of the property market should also have looked at all the property auctions of the previous two or three years and seen what a huge amount of housing, developed buildings and land had been sold by local authorities, NHS or other unaccountable bureaucratic bodies much of this could have been utilised towards solving the social housing and essential worker accommodation problem.

The reason why they sell outright is that the money is needed to pay for the Bloated Payrolls & Pensions of all planners, town centre improvement officers/ Bat/Spider/Newt protection officers, licensing officers, shopfront inspectors, ethnic advice/legal aid centres etc etc. These people are all very well paid, very well pensioned, have very good working conditions as well as having a work absenteeism rate much higher than the private sector and of course well paid holidays, all of which are risk free and paid for by the general taxes/council tax mostly provided by the private sector for whom they have so little regard.

Our company owns a vacant, derelict site in the centre of Ramsgate, which would be ideal for 24/26 flats. Our architects consulted meticulously with the planners as to what would be an acceptable development. Numerous revisions were made until the planner was satisfied. The application was submitted with optimistic expectation by our architects (not by me though!) and sure enough three or four months later the senior planning officer recommended the application should be refused, and it was. Almost as annoyingly, a week later I received a letter, from a Ramsgate Town Centre's Improvement Officer, complaining about the derelict site and threatening us that if we did not bring it into use soon they might compulsorily purchase the property. They had a short sharp answer to their letter which unfortunately required me to show some self-restraint in the way I normally express myself. I am currently in the process of trying to obtain planning permission to rebuild my own house. This is normally a simple process as new for old is allowed even in the "green belt" where I live. My application was submitted after long consultation. After a suitable interval I phoned to ascertain when the application would be submitted to the planning committee and I was told it was going to be refused by way of "delegated powers" by the senior planning officer.

The reasons given were so patently incorrect that it was clear that the planning department had not investigated the scheme at all. I phoned my local councillor to complain and to ask him to request that it be heard by the planning committee (only a councillor can make this request). It seemed the democratic process began to work. The councillor investigated the matter and the "delegated refusal" was abandoned and a thorough investigation was implemented which revealed the new house was only 10% bigger than the old house not the 30% the planning officer had actually believed. The planning officer did not believe the independent computer calculations of cubic content and required hand written calculations. To further complicate matters we received a letter from "Batwoman" (Hertfordshire environment officer) who informed us that our area was known to have bats and a bat survey was required. This we did and the "Batologist" looked in the rafters, up the eaves, down the nooks and round the crannies. He did not find Bats, but concluded that because it was hibernation time it was possible a Bat family could be hidden almost anywhere. He did however find two tiny pieces of old bat droppings and thus a new survey will have to be carried out when Mr Bat Van Winkle wakes up. It appears a Bat family has the right to claim asylum in my rafters and would have to be provided with suitable alternative accommodation if I wish to redevelop. To date, no rare spiders, newts, frogs or flora have been found, all of whom appear to have "rights" which human Council Tax payers do not appear to have.

For 18 years I have owned an old cinema in Hyde, south of Manchester, which was always slightly unprofitable, but about 9 years ago, a multiplex cinema opened nearby and thereafter I doubt if we even had 50 customers each week. The cinema was closed and a planning application was made and granted for alternative leisure uses and despite extensive marketing no user was forthcoming. Eventually I obtained a new planning permission to demolish and rebuild with 29 much need assisted flats on the site. Within four or five months a number of local residents petitioned the heritage department which after a cursory inspection listed the property. The local residents are intent on converting the cinema back to its original use as a theatre. The cost of this would £2 to £3 million and the losses on running this venture would be hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

The theatre-lover promoters want lottery money for the capital costs and the losses presumably to be paid by the local authority (none of their own money, of course). I am a great believer in protecting our heritage, but this cinema is a particularly unattractive building with a low level of Grade Listing. The proposed squandering of so much public money is absurd as the building next door to mine is a modern theatre which more than adequately provides for Hyde's thespian needs. What is urgently required in Hyde is "Tuppence worth" of common sense.

Whilst these restrictions to develop are going on throughout the country, it appears that if you are a scruffy, mess making group of people who pay no council tax, probably don't pay road tax or car insurance, but live (probably on state benefits) in caravans, you can do as you like. The caravans you plonk down on green belt land, in nice areas, which have been bought cheaply because of the lack of possible planning permission, and if you call yourself "travellers", then judges override all the objections and planning laws and grant "living rights" under the "human rights" act. That's the shambles of the planning system.