With voters across the North West heading to the polls today to chose their local council representatives, research has revealed that 59% of those sitting on planning committees in the region are opposed to Green Belt review – although two thirds believe the housing crisis is getting worse.
The Planning Committee Barometer is compiled by Newgate Communications and takes its results from a poll issued to 5.500 councillors sitting on planning committees throughout England, with the 2018 survey receiving 670 responses.
At 67%, the volume of North West councillors who believe that the housing crisis is deepening is higher than the national average. Just 9% said they believe the situation is improving, suggesting that the government’s efforts to enable the market aren’t yet having an effect. The national average for those who would’nt support a Green Belt review is 45%.
The findings were trailed by Newgate’s managing partner Rebecca Eatwell at Place’s RESI 2018 conference last month. She said: “It was interesting to see the contrast between the North West and other regions when it came to protecting the Green Belt. This most likely reflects the greater pressures on delivering affordable housing in other parts of the country.
“That said it’s true of all areas that while there is some Green Belt that is sacrosanct there’s also plenty that’s low value. It’s certainly the case that not all Green Belt was created equal and I think we’re long overdue a rational debate about it.”
In the third key finding, 55% said that they believe developers to be using viability assessments to avoid planning obligations, with developers also taking flak in other areas – 44% of North West respondents said that slow build-out rates are to blame, with just 21% pointing to community opposition as the main cause of low completion rates.
However, a lack of engagement seems to be a failing. The research found that nationally only 18% of local authorities actively encourage conversations between committee members and developers on planning applications, while 13% reported being actively discouraged to engage.
Sharing top place as councillors’ main concerns were providing affordable homes for future generations and ensuring economic growth and job creation, but these only narrowly topped preserving the Green Belt. Although 73% felt that more affordable homes needed to be delivered, a tenth of regional councillors said affordability was not an issue in their local authority area, which is higher than the national average.
Eatwell said: “Local councillors clearly think that the housing crisis is getting worse and there was a general feeling in the research that developers are a big part of the problem. I think this reflects a wider reputational issue facing the industry at present.
“Yet we work with many housebuilders and developers that are genuinely trying to create sustainable communities that deliver inclusive growth. The contribution that the housing sector makes to both local communities and the national economy is often overlooked. I’d argue it’s time to stop apportioning blame and for local councillors to work with developers to tackle the issue together.”