|Housing Bill's 'Devastating' Effect On Local Business - Ruth Cadbury|
Need for homes 'shouldn't' be at expense of small business community
Local MP Ruth Cadbury, says she fears that the new Housing & Planning Bill will lead to devastating effects on the small business community of town centres such as Chiswick and Brentford.
In a speech this week in the House of Commons, in which she focused on the planning aspects of the new Bill, she said that the system of 'prior approval', which by-passed the local authority planning system had created a free for all system of speculative development, similar to that of the 1930s.
"I am not opposed to former offices becoming housing—or indeed schools, places of worship and so on—but we should use the planning system. It is open, transparent and accountable. We should use it to enable that to happen, not the clauses in the Bill."
She said that the current system of 'prior approval' had been devastating not only to small office premises in town centres such as Chiswick and Brentford, but to the retail and catering businesses that depend on the lunchtime trade generated by the people who work in those offices, as it is trade that the residents of the replacement flats do not bring.
"There are plenty of other brownfield and redundant buildings that could be used—indeed are being used—for housing without devastating the small business community of our town centres. "
"The Bill removes the voices of local people and undermines local democratic control over development. It hands local authority planning powers to the Secretary of State and removes any community engagement. Yes, we need new homes, and we need great places to live, to learn and to play, but the “permission in principle” clause will severely restrict the ability of local authorities, community organisations and the public to comment on, or object to, development on these sites. Furthermore, there has been no public consultation on this provision."
The MP for Brentford & Isleworth also said that the Bill brings no hope to the 600 families who are in temporary accommodation in her constituency, the thousands of young people with no hope of owning their homes, and those who cannot even find a place that they can afford to rent in west London.
"My local authority, Hounslow, has an excellent record of delivering housing across all tenures during the last Administration, including 3,000 affordable homes of which 400 are council homes.
"That was before the prior approval was introduced. Many buildings and sites that are no longer appropriate for their old use—factories, offices, and a magistrates court—have been granted change of use for decent-quality housing, with appropriate agreements providing for affordability, decent space standards and decent amenity spaces.
"So there was no need to bypass local authorities by introducing the prior approval regime to remove the normal oversight on change of use to housing, which the Bill extends permanently. I received an email from Brentford Chamber of Commerce asking me to speak up for its members, some 80 of whom have either been forced out, or fear being forced out, of their office premises as a direct result of the prior approval regime.
"Since prior approval was introduced in May 2013, it has resulted in a loss or potential loss of 80,000 square metres of office space. Furthermore, while this has resulted in a net gain of 1,251 residential units in the borough, it has meant a potential loss of 512 affordable units. Why? Because if those schemes had gone through the normal planning applications process instead of the prior approval process, they would have had to have provided 40% affordable housing on site, as per the policies in the local plan. The prior approval process means no assessment or negotiation: no assessment of the space standards, parking standards, amenity standards and employment floor space.
Ms Cadbury, who was on Hounslow Council's Planning Committee for over twenty years said that the Bill did contain welcome clauses on rogue landlords, but ironically it actually legitimised the creation of substandard housing with wholly inadequate space and other standards.
"We have no problem with the conversion of employment land and buildings being used to deliver the homes of the future, but not at the cost of vibrant businesses, or at the cost of a proportion of social rented and shared ownership homes, and at the cost of appropriate local oversight.
"In conclusion, the Bill is bad for families in temporary accommodation; bad for all those who cannot afford to rent privately, such as the couple I met in my surgery the other week; bad for those small and growing businesses in west London, particularly in the town centres where landlords are rushing to change their property into housing; and bad for the shops, cafes and restaurants that depend on the lunchtime trade that those businesses bring.
"The Bill is bad for employers, such as the chief executive of our local hospital, struggling to recruit and retain qualified staff because of the housing crisis that the Bill will not solve. It is bad for the councils and community organisations shut out of planning decision-making, and it is bad for the communities that need a balance between housing, employment, space for community facilities and amenity space."
November 5, 2015