Problems caused by troubles in the planning system in the Thames Valley were laid bare after we asked our sponsors and partners what they wanted from the new Government.
Jonny Denton, residential sales manager for Darcliffe Homes, specified cases where the system has failed and stated what he wants done, while REDA chief executive Nigel Horton-Baker says Brandon Lewis, the new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, holds the key to what happens at Reading Gaol.
Other significant roles in Prime Minister Liz Truss’s cabinet include Simon Clarke as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Anne-Marie Trevelyan as Secretary of State for Transport and Alok Sharma who has been re-appointed as COP26 President.
Here’s what our partners told us:
Jonny Denton, residential sales manager for Darcliffe Homes, said: “As a housebuilder, the biggest hope I have from the newly appointed cabinet ministers is that they tackle the issues within the planning system.
“It is no easy fix and I fear it will get worse before it gets better but local authorities need to start being held accountable for the timescales in which they are allowed to operate in their decision making progress.
“If we miss a deadline on something, we get fined, have to wait till next year or miss out altogether.
“They miss a deadline and we have to wait until they’re ready because, by the time a complaint has reached a conclusion, another year may have passed – so much for our ‘housing crisis’.
“Here are two live examples. A current planning application where we haven’t been able to get a response from the local authority for two months because the officer left the role and no one told us. We only found out through months of chasing.
“Equally, we have another application in on a site where we already have consent for a larger commercial office which isn’t viable. We have, so far, had two refusals for a smaller residential scheme and, in our latest attempt, we were due a decision in May.
“We were told they were minded to give a consent but we still have not had a response – four months over time.
“This surely sets out that there is a need to revert to the old system of setting planning departments targets, which if not met, punishes them in some way.
“We need to find a way to keep best the staff at local authorities and find a way to incentivise them to stay. This currently is not the case.
“I also would like to see a consistent approach to the planning system, ie, a percentage of affordable housing across the board. It could kick in at, maybe, four units or more or 10 units or more!
“It would also be good to have a consistent approach on CIL contributions.”
Nigel Horton-Baker, chief executive of REDA, said: “Reading’s Economy and Destination Agency, REDA, welcomes the re-appointment of Reading’s own Alok Sharma MP as the COP26 President.
“Reading has made great strides on the green agenda in recent years, not least the leadership shown by the development of the internationally-recognised climate stripes at Reading University. It is helpful to have our own local MP championing Reading’s green credentials on the international stage.
“Reading knows only too well how the problems of success can leave localities socially excluded and we hope Simon Clark MP, the minister responsible for levelling-up, will recognise this fact in a more nuanced strategy for the whole country, rather than just focusing on the north-south divide.
“In Reading one of our most iconic historic buildings has been left rotting for several years and we call on the Rt Hon Brandon Lewis CBE MP to come and see for himself the opportunity that the Reading Gaol site presents for our economy.
“The gaol could provide a game changing moment for Reading, helping win back global visitors to the UK and also providing an enriching experience for the local people of Reading who hold the site dear to their hearts.”
Helen Todd, managing director for Stubbings Property Marketing, said: “With a new Prime Minister and her cabinet now in place, what I hope to see is both consistency and stability.
“As interest rates rise and the cost of living soars, it is going to be harder than ever for first time buyers to step onto the property ladder. With the Help to Buy scheme drawing to a close, the Government’s new First Homes scheme is being piloted.
“We have, in fact, been able to offer this scheme to purchasers at the Novus Apartments development in Slough, which we are currently selling. Early indications suggest it’s been a huge success, with the majority of the homes allocated under the scheme, now sold.
“However, what we need now is some clear direction from our new Government. If/when/how will this scheme be rolled out more widely? And what else will be put in place to support first time buyers who are crucial to our housing market?”
Derek Ching, partner at Boyes Turner, pointed to the fuel crisis which will affect all firms. He said: “We have to hope for something meaningful to address the spiralling fuel costs which at this rate will decimate SMEs especially in the leisure and hospitality sector who face a triple whammy of higher running costs, salary pressures and loss of trade as their cash strapped customers cut down on going to the pub or eating out.”
Rob Allaway, managing director of DevComms, said: “The country has needed political certainty for months and the conclusion to the leadership race could not have come soon enough. The need for stable leadership, direction and action has become even more acute at a time of deep national loss.
“In terms of policy, some interpreted recent comments from the new PM on resistance to redistribution as a possible lack of commitment to levelling up.
“However, the appointment of Simon Clarke to DLUC runs counter to that. He has previously been in the department and is supportive of levelling up and devolution.
“He has also had a spell in the Treasury and exercises restraint when it comes to spending. The financial straitjackets of local authorities are unlikely to loosen under the new Secretary of State. We may even see more unitary authorities emerging in a bid to increase efficiencies and local autonomy.”
Image: Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street, OGL 3 <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3>, via Wikimedia Commons.
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