New Town Development Corporations – A Necessary Evil?
Depending on who you talk to, the government’s New Town Development Corporations are either a much-needed attempt to solve planning disputes or potentially another layer of bureaucracy.
Any developer will know the challenges of dealing with the present planning system, particularly if you have a proposal that has been welcomed by one authority only for the neighbouring council to object.
It’s proposed the new Development Corporations (DCs) will solve this problem by giving control to a single body made up of a partnership of developers and representatives of local government. They will be able to progress planning and project development and will also be able to raise private funding. It’s envisaged they will help to oversee the delivery of new garden towns or villages.
Under a change to the New Towns Act 1981, the Secretary of State will be able to appoint a council leader from one local authority who would have the power to outline plans in an authority they wouldn’t normally have jurisdiction over. In theory, this enhances the powers of local communities and gives them more say over what happens in their back yards.
As a developer that is great news, but I still have some reservations. We must continue to go out of our way to consult early and extensively to ensure we pick up on local concerns and wishes. We must also carry on sounding out local communities during the development stages and evolve our plans accordingly. If DCs listen similarly to the issues raised locally, and develop solutions or compromises, then I think they can play a valuable role where developments have been stalled.
Another concern I have is where the money and expertise is coming from for these new Development Corporations to actually function? As we know all too well local authority planning departments are already stretched, lacking both financial resources and skilled officers. To work well, these DCs must ensure development isn’t housing led but meets a community need for jobs, schools, shops and leisure. Local planners play a vital role in the economic and social development of their areas because they understand what is needed to make them thrive. We should be about making places, not just building homes.
Interestingly, the government’s desire to build new towns could lead to more local resistance such as planning disputes, but anything that can free up these potential log-jams is to be welcomed. We just need to ensure Development Corporations solve more problems than they create.
Managing Director, Housebuilding (Strategic), Countryside