Who is blocking local development?

Tom Forth,

“Homeowners who block local development to protect property prices must be challenged by the government, the chief secretary to the Treasury has said.

Liz Truss described them as the worst vested interest we’ve got and said that the Conservatives must loosen planning laws to extend the party’s appeal.”

I already get my centre-right news fix from subscriptions to The FT and The Economist so I didn’t continue reading the piece in The Times, but I think I got the gist of it just from peering over the paywall.

Do I agree? Probably. Am I convinced that Liz Truss is serious? No.

But moaning about politicians is so predictable. So instead I’ll explain what Liz Truss could do to convince me that she is serious.

She could come visit us at The Open Data Institute Leeds and see the fantastic work that we do using the best open data in the UK to understand housing markets like nowhere else can and maintain Leeds’ amazing position as the UK’s big city with the least homelessness. We’ve proved that building more homes keeps prices low, and Leeds has proved that it can keep homelessness at 1/100th the level of Birmingham, 1/50th the level of Manchester, and 1/30th the level of Bristol.

We have coffee and WiFi, I’ll buy lunch at the market, it’ll be great.

Then we could take a trip on the train up to Burley in Wharfedale. It’s a lovely commuter village, just 17 minutes from Leeds station. The trains are excellent; the result of investment by The Conservative Party in 1995. And they will soon be even more excellent; the trains are getting 50% longer this year thanks to investment by The Conservative Party again. And it’s a Remain-voting ward in a Tory marginal, Shipley — exactly the kind of place at risk if Brexit goes badly.

We can have a look at the site where Bradford's Labour Council want to allow a private company to build 500 homes for families. It’s a site that doesn’t flood, close to nature, on a fantastic railway line to Leeds and Bradford, and whose release will generate significant contributions for local investment. It’s a site whose permission has been called in by the UK government, blocking development and costing Bradford City Council and the developer significant sums as they wait for a decision and fight for the freedom to build homes for people.

Image from The Bradford Telegraph & Argus.

I’d ask Liz to challenge local Conservative MP Philip Davies for applying pressure on the UK government. I’d ask Liz to challenge her UK Conservative government for succumbing to that pressure and calling in the plans. I’d ask Liz to challenge the similar interventions in other UK's cities, such as the decision to overrule Birmingham City Council and put 6,000 homes on hold, and the decision to call in 1,000 homes in Greater Manchester after they were approved by Bolton Council.

And most importantly I’d ask her to talk to some planners and local councillors about the chilling effect that the knowledge that this could happen has on their ability to be ambitious, to plan for growth, and to plan for their cities to pay their own way within the UK. Not just in Bradford, or Bolton, or Birmingham either — but the chilling effect that the eye of the UK government far away in London has on every city in the North and the Midlands that wants to grow.

Honestly Liz, the offer is open. We’re a friendly bunch, and we’ve got some fantastic products and data about industrial strategy, R&D, and transport that lots of people in London keep on asking us to come and show them. Come up to Leeds, come and see it first, and convince us that the biggest opposition to building the homes that this country’s families need is really “homeowners who block local development”, and not your Conservative government.

 

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