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Housing Supply - The Elephant in the Room

John Wallace, Managing Director at construction law firm Ridgemont, comments

On 7 January 1919, Harry Houdini performed his “Vanishing Elephant” illusion at the Hippodrome Theatre in New York.  On the enormous Hippodrome stage, Houdini set what he described as a cabinet “about eight feet square, twenty-six inches off the floor”.  All parts of the cabinet were shown to the audience and the elephant walked inside.  Once inside the cabinet, the doors and curtains were closed.  Houdini reopened the cabinet and the elephant had vanished! How did he do it?!

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was intended to be the government’s flagship legislation with the purpose of cutting planning red tape and setting mandatory new house building targets for local authorities. Minister of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Rt Hon Lucy Frazer MP commented, “Levelling Up means creating vibrant and beautiful communities where local people and businesses can thrive”.

But the reality is that the Bill is a power grab from central Government, providing the Secretary of State with carte blanche with which to bypass local planning authorities in providing consent to controversial developments.

The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 and the 1990 Act of the same name, formed the basis of our contemporary planning system. The Acts, in part enacted in response to the need for large scale planning and construction post Second World War, introduced a requirement for planning permission for the development of land. Importantly, power was given to local authorities to determine development proposals in line with planning applications. This created a democratic but flawed system, whereby underfunded planning authorities, overwhelmed with planning applications, make, what many developers believe, are subjective decisions based on local bias rather than national strategic thinking.  

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