The forthcoming Localism Bill currently in its final stages of Parliamentary scrutiny, will see changes to planning regulations never seen before.

The essence of the proposals being suggested by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP are that local people and local councils should have autonomy to decide how they want their neighbourhoods to look rather than having to solely comply with Government dictat which, generally, applies a ‘one size fits all’ methodology to house design, size, density etc.

He is proposing neighbourhood development plans, drawn up by residents themselves, that will form the crux of regulations. These will ensure that the shape of communities is ultimately governed by communities themselves.

Controversially, this ethos also will apply to the Green Belt, the sacrosanct rural areas that since the 1950’s have separated towns and cities to prevent urbanisation ‘creep’ whereby one town simply blends into the next. Campaigners state that giving local people the choice over whether a doctors surgery or housing is built on such land, is wrong.  But many would argue that if it’s a question of the population of an area deciding what is right and good nearby, rather than bureaucrats, then that must be a step forward rather than backwards?

Property values will surely benefit too from a more considered approach to appropriateness of each development proposed.

Mr Pickles has also tackled the question of ‘box like’ houses, recently criticised as endemic across the UK but that not only are tiny compared to families’ needs but that are the same from Cornwall to County Durham. There is no regional style or flavour, no idiosynchratic element to them dependent upon location.

The size of home that you buy is also a matter of individiual choice though of course and not something that should be dictated to people in terms of ‘minimum standard’. But that only works if there is actually competitive choice so that developers are forced by way of market forces to provide homes that people want rather than homes that the developer wants to supply on the seeming basis of ‘less is more’. Developers after all, have mere profit in mind and are unconcerned other than to cram the maximum number of properties onto each development.

So if housing does become more ‘thoughtful’ through demand from buyers and communities, so much the better we say.

It might then see the end to the questionable practice of show homes that have craftily been equipped with undersized beds and furniture and with doors removed in order to create the illusion of space to attract willing buyers.

Planning needs to change from the dictats of John Prescott & Co of old where, in order to enforce more housing, parking amenity and comfort were sacrfificed for sweeping national regulations that still did little to build enough houses for our population in any case. These new proposals need to be given a chance.

People power often works. Perhaps we should trust it.

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