A claim that ‘let-rip’ policies have led to a ‘classic planning fiasco’, with England facing an oversupply of out-of-town retail space and struggling high streets, features in today’s newspaper round-up.

Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins writes that high streets “have been under assault since the 1980s, when governments capitulated to the supermarket lobby and its craving to get retail out of town”. He writes: “In 2011, a Guardian planning survey showed a 20 per cent surge in supermarket planning applications, 80 per cent of them out of town, encouraged by David Cameron’s let-rip planning policy. Sites were bought, fields bulldozed, concrete laid. Tesco proposed three new stores a week. Four years later, the bubble burst. Overnight Tesco abandoned 49 projects and closed 43 stores. The damage was done. As city centres were stripped, out-of-town sites lay derelict. It was a classic planning fiasco.”

The Guardian also reports that a leaked Metropolitan Police report has said that the Grenfell Tower fire was “fuelled by botched refurbishment decisions that went well beyond the use of flammable cladding panels and insulation”. The paper says that the report found that “gaps around windows, wrongly fitted cavity barriers meant to stop fire, and dozens of missing or faulty door closers were also responsible for helping to spread rather than limit the fire that claimed 71 lives in June 2017”.

Guardian columnist Dawn Foster says that, “almost a year on from Grenfell, we are still discovering the consequences of the Cameron government’s attitude to regulation”. Foster writes: “Cameron boasted that the corner-cutting and revocation of many regulations on building and business would save £500 per home built: a small sum in the grand scheme of things. Weighing it against the value of a potential lost human life should be impossible.”

The Financial Times (subscription) reports research findings that “half of millennials will rent rather than own their homes into their 40s and one-third will rent into retirement unless there is a radical change in taxation, new funding for public housing and a reform of the private sector”. The paper says that, “under this pessimistic scenario — which assumes that recent economic conditions and trends in home ownership persist — researchers at the Resolution Foundation think-tank estimate that the growing unaffordability of accommodation will see the housing benefit paid to pensioners rise from £6.3 billion today to £16 billion by 2060″.

The Times (subscription) reports that “one of Britain’s leading architects” has revealed that she was threatened after speaking out on racism within the profession. The paper says that “Elsie Owusu said that she was sent a letter telling her to ‘think very carefully about what you say and do’”.

The Guardian reports that , according to a comprehensive study of global air pollution by the Health Effects Institute, “more than 95 per cent of the world’s population breathe unsafe air and the burden is falling hardest on the poorest communities, with the gap between the most polluted and least polluted countries rising rapidly”.

Source: Michael Donnelly, Planning Resource, 17 April 2018

Local Comment:  In relation to protecting town centres, an important case is being brought by Next against a planning appeal decision in Scotland where the Reporter refused to relax a condition on an out-of-town retail park permission, which would have allowed Next to sell clothes there and vacate its existing town centre location.  The Scottish Government intends to defend the action in the Court of Sessions.  One of the points of dispute relates to the interpretation of “suitable” and “available” premises in both Scottish and English national retail policy guidance.  If the judge supports the Scottish Government, it will be much easier to defend town centres against similar threats in the future. – Philip Barton