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Readers' Letters

Editor’s comment: We should all care about planning rules

PUBLISHED: 15:00 10 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:50 18 October 2018

Islington Council leader Richard Watts, centre, meets staff at the Dover Court site where new council houses are being built. Picture: STEVE BAINBRIDGE

Islington Council leader Richard Watts, centre, meets staff at the Dover Court site where new council houses are being built. Picture: STEVE BAINBRIDGE

Steve Bainbridge Photography Ltd

The more I learn about planning, the more it seems like a dark art.

There’s no shortage of guidance on what is and is not a good development – it comes from councils, surveyors, the government, successive mayors of London, and legal precedents. Unfortunately, the fact it’s now such a contradictory hodgepodge is robbing Islington of affordable housing.

I’ll explain. Back in 2016, Islington Council got (relatively) tough with developers who didn’t want to build, or pay, their way to help tackle the housing crisis. It put out a piece of guidance saying: we don’t care if you emptied your wallet by paying over the odds for a piece of land – you’ve still got to budget for 50 per cent affordable homes.

Unfortunately, that was far from the end of it. Developers are meant to heed guidance like this but what actually happens is a game of chicken: they can appeal a decision by the council to refuse planning permission, but they might lose; if they don’t, the council can appeal itself, but could end up losing in the High Court. So even before those (occasionally) stuffy planning committee meetings in the town hall, councillors and officers have to weigh up the likelihood that a decision will be challenged, and whether it’s worth spending taxpayers’ money fighting a case that will could give Islington more affordable homes but could also give it an enormous bill.

Personally, I think it’s a developer’s own stupid fault if it buys a plot without checking the rules about affordable housing – but I’m not the one making the decisions in the High Court, and neither is Islington. The more guidance there is on Islington’s side, the more likely we are to get the homes our borough deserves and needs. So the council’s call for RICS to change its guidance is very much a good thing – even if it won’t fix anything overnight.

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