In light of COVID-19, we need comprehensive and far-reaching changes to our planning laws. Radical planning reform needs to increase supply across our countries to support our working people. On general principles, the current system is broken. The principles enshrined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are no longer fit for purpose. Even recent changes to the national planning policy framework and neighbourhood development plans, while absolutely laudable, do not deliver the housing that this country needs. We need a much more liberal approach to development, and we need to get planning into the economic development arm of local authorities as soon as possible.
I would like the team on our Front Bench to focus on two priorities: the reform of town centres and the right to build. On town centres, we need to drop the change of use rule that currently exists in high streets to free up potentially 3 million or 4 million properties that people could move into. As high streets change in the light of COVID-19, we must change our policies too. High streets are social hubs. We need to prioritise converting shops into older people’s flats, helping with loneliness, access and more high street viability. The Government should allow private pension funds to invest in new build residential properties. In fact, I am on a call with the mayors in my patch tonight, and I hope we will be able to discuss how we might make some changes in North Cornwall to facilitate some of this. I urge those on our Front Bench to be bold with our planning reforms for town centres.
Secondly, and lastly, I would like to touch on the right to build. We have had a plan-led approach, but it is not delivering. Although we have done well, it is not delivering the homes that people require. Town planning needs to sit with the economic development arm of local authorities, rather than with the planners. My surgeries have been full up, as have those of other Members, with local people who have spent thousands of pounds getting an application ready for committee in order for it to be determined, only to have it turned down by the local authority. The authorities view planning as a problem to be resolved, rather than an opportunity for a home for a person or a local opportunity for employment, and we need to change that. In conclusion, it is my view that we need to facilitate smaller developments. We need to be much more supportive, and we need to invest in our high streets and ensure that we can change those properties to make those high streets more viable.