Page last updated at 23:35 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 00:35 UK

Planning 'plagued by box-ticking'

By John Andrew
Local government correspondent, BBC News

A house under construction
England's planning system has been criticised by the Bow Group

England's planning system is plagued by box-ticking and target-setting and does not deliver the homes needed at local level, a think tank says.

The centre-right Bow Group is calling for a new approach based less on regional plans and more on a flexible system focused on neighbourhoods.

It says the planning system is slow and costs the economy about £2.7bn a year.

The government says regional plans allow local authorities to work out homes and transport for themselves.

The report argues that the current system is top-down, is not delivering for communities and in some areas has produced a massive oversupply of flats.

In London, for instance, just 12% of new homes completed in 2007/8 were houses.

A public planner told the Bow Groups interview panel: "What the government doesn't seem to realise is that while regional plans might set targets for housing, it's quite another thing to actually see a local community or a council accept those targets, particularly when a perception exists that they've been set centrally."

The push for higher densities, says the report, does not have to equal high-rise development, as so much of our surviving Victorian and Georgian housing stock shows.

Good practice

The report argues that the government's decision to give more power to regional development agencies has damaged the fabric of local democracy and that the resultant regional plans are unpopular, expensive and undemocratic.

It says better urban design is the key to improving a system which has provoked conflict and strife in many local communities.

As models of good practice it points to the developments like Poundbury in Dorset - modelled on Prince Charles's ideas - and the Millennium Village in Greenwich.

These are both examples where councils, local communities and developers discussed the design before any planning application was submitted.

A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Regional plans allow local authorities to work out for themselves the best way of building new homes, building business parks, siting green energy sources and routing transport links.

"This process is led by local government leaders and now scrutinised by regional select committees.

"Without this process central government would be imposing decisions on local areas."

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