Nimbys…nimbys everywhere

This morning Sir Eddie Lister, the Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning, addressed a cloistered audience at Snapdragon’s Breakfast Briefing in Southwark Cathedral.

For those familiar with the GLA and planning in London, Sir Eddie is the authority on regeneration and development matters across Greater London, and spoke in great detail about the challenges facing the city both now and in the future.

The challenges, as Sir Eddie laid them out, included the changing nature of retail and the death of the traditional high street outside prime locations, the housing crisis, as well as jobs and productivity. However, the key challenge underpinning all of this is the rise of NIMBYism, he argued.

Speaking to an audience of developers, planners and architects he argued that everyone was a NIMBY, even if they recognised the challenges facing London in terms of coping with the growth of the city – no one wants development in their back yard, a sentiment that those of us working in community consultation can attest to.

This is an increasing problem for local authorities, the GLA and national government as they seek to reconcile the needs of a growing population and a growing city with the desire of local communities to control development in their area. Sir Eddie’s answer was to drive change through, partly through use and extension of the Mayor’s planning powers.

However localism, Sir Eddie argued, is here to stay through devolution to cities and regions. Cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield will gain elected Mayors with  significant planning powers and will be directly responsible to communities, rather than central government. The challenge is therefore how to operate the planning system to complement this whilst maximising the development of homes and the regeneration of town centres.

One of the ways of achieving this is to lay out Opportunity Areas – the likes of Barking Riverside and Vauxhall Nine Elms – to maximise new development. This will serve to concentrate housing in areas that are sustainable, with good transport links and the ability to house new communities.

The second aspect is the need to drastically speed up the planning process. Principally this means ensuring that local authorities actually determine applications within the required timeframe. The majority of applications in London are not determined in the 13 – 16 week period they are supposed to be, slowing down the process.

Sir Eddie also argued that s106 agreements should be tied off at, or as close to, the determination stage of the planning process as possible – rather than be the subject of a back-and-forth after permission has been granted. This, he argued, would drastically increase the actual amount of units being built, rather than just permitted.

As Sir Eddie argued, London is in the midst of great change. It needs housing, jobs, schools and healthcare and it needs to achieve it in a way that supports and enhances existing communities. Localism is here to stay; it is therefore the planning system that needs to adapt itself to attempt to solve these pressing and urgent issues.

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