Making your voice heard on building projects

“If we want a better, greener future, we have to hold governments of any stripe to account.”

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Central government would like to build, build, build us out of the coming economic hard times.

Whether this would translate into a ‘green new deal’ is another matter – especially as there have been complaints that ‘newts’ might get in the way of any such building.

In response, Tony Juniper, chair of the government’s own conservation watchdog. is saying that ‘green thinking’ must be integrated from the start in any new infrastructure projects – rather than being seen as an irritating ‘add-on’ or ‘mitigation’:

“When I hear ‘build build build’, I say ‘nature nature nature,’” said Juniper. “None of this should be controversial any longer because we’ve had a succession of reports telling us that healthy nature is an asset, not a burden. We need healthy nature to catch carbon, to clean up rivers, to reduce flood risk, to improve public health and wellbeing, to attract tourism. All of these have economic upsides, which I fear until relatively recently have been invisible in the development planning process.”

Ultimately, though, it’s a matter of who’s in control of all this building – whether, as some might say, it’s the big boys dominating house-building or the wider ‘property lobby’ represented by the RICS.

Certainly, the likes of the CPRE fear a ‘free-for-all’ in Devon while a broad coalition of conservationists fear proposed planning laws would be a ‘deregulatory race to the bottom’.

There are certainly fears about the sheer quantity (if not quality) of housing to be built – and certainly, the rejection by East Devon of Greater Exeter’s massive house-building programme can be seen as a reassertion of local decision-making.

Ultimately, many commentators feel that planning decisions should be made locally – and that the likes of the Grimsey Report following the Covid crisis is the way to go when planning locally, whether looking after green space or being imaginative about our town centres.

And, as suggested not without irony, we do need to be creative about our high streets, although simply turning shops into housing might not be the most creative idea.

Turning offices into housing is creating even more of a hostile reaction – and that there is ‘no evidence that the planning system is to blame for the shortage of housing‘:

The UK government’s plans to extend permitted development rights will produce tiny “sub-standard homes” warns the Royal Institute of British ArchitectsThe new laws will allow developers to convert commercial and retail buildings into housing without making a full planning application extending permitted development (PD) rights that already allow office buildings to be converted.

“The extension of this policy is truly disgraceful,” said Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president Alan Jones. “There is no evidence that the planning system is to blame for the shortage of housing, and plenty to suggest that leaving local communities powerless in the face of developers seeking short-term returns will lead to poor results… Even the government’s own advisors concluded that permitted development had ‘permissioned future slums’ – allowing sub-standard homes to be built with little to no natural light and smaller than budget hotel rooms.”

Jones’ comment about “future slums” is a direct quote from the final report from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which advised that local authorities be given powers to set higher standards for PD schemes.

Yes, that’s the government’s own Building Better, Building Beautiful commission.

Finally, comment from the new West Country Bylines online publication looks to that ultimate piece of local infrastructure – the building of schools – but within the wider context discussed above:

If we want a better, greener future, we have to hold governments of any stripe to account. This government has promised to “build back greener”, so let’s make sure they do just that. We may feel that we have little voice in Westminster, but we do have a voice locally. You can make your voice heard in local school building projects through the PTA or the local council. Or maybe there is a local eco or transition group you can support. We are not without a voice and need not feel helpless. It is important that, if our government is to be spending significant amounts on the infrastructure of our towns and villages, we make sure that the money is spent on projects which benefit the environment and leave a great legacy for our children and grandchildren.
   
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