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A community right to build

Peter Henley | 16:37 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

_48460180_001454850-1.jpgProviding decent homes without destroying the beauty of the South of England is perhaps the biggest challenge facing our region. The attractive environment that brings people to our part of the world, and keeps them here, is the very thing that could be at risk of being destroyed.

Today's announcement of a "community right to build" sees the council planning system pushed aside - a radical step, but perhaps the only way to make progress.

What's always struck me about the regular clashes between the two sides is the sheer passion of the battle. Placard waving NIMBYs with endless protests confronting Evil Developers with massed ranks of consultants and lawyers.

The plea from Housing Minister Grant Shapps today was to harness that energy to build the better communities that all of us would like to see. Launching the plan he said:

"Our problem is that the young people grow up and find they can't afford to live in this village anymore. We believe that people have a right to stay in their community and if people want to build that community to make it a bit bigger and expand it a bit, within reason, they should have the powers to do that."

His target is the wealthy rural areas - parts of Oxfordshire and Sussex, around Winchester and Bournemouth, where village schools could be kept alive by a modest number of new homes. A pub or a shop that starts to thrive again on the back of a carefully planned new build.

Under the plan villages would be able to form local housing trusts, and hold a referendum to decide if house building should go ahead. A large majority would be needed and it would not be possible to use the proposed Right to Build to expand communities by more than 10 per cent in a 10-year period.

So what about the Green Belt? Is this the thin end of the wedge?

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has criticised the proposals, saying that there should be proper planning scrutiny of house building by democratically-elected councillors rather than a simple public ballot.

The Royal Town Planning Institute have concerns too, this was their comment today:

"Proper planning scrutiny has served us well whereas this proposal appears to disempower local authorities by removing their right to determine development proposals and may mean that new housing built as a result may conflict with existing wider community priorities."

You can download their Q & A on the proposals here.

Some will see Conservatives rewarding their backers in the building industry, but others will point to the empowerment of local people as the best possible protection against the bulldozers.

Michael Gove's plan for Free Schools was touted during the election as the flagship radical policy. But now it's tainted by the cancellation of BSF and subject to cuts.

For the South of England the devolution of local control from Right to Build could prove the most effective and popular element of David Cameron's plan to bring power to the people.

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