The planning system is underperforming according to National Audit Office

Targets for new homes are likely to be missed by half of England’s local authorities, according to a damning assessment of the government’s housing strategy, while increasingly profitable building companies are getting away with paying less for infrastructure and more than half of councils have failed to draw up adequate plans to solve the housing crisis.

The National Audit Office (NAO) concludes that the planning system in England is “not working well” and says councils are struggling to negotiate successfully with developers, leaving swathes of the country vulnerable to either housing shortages or situations where the wrong homes are built in the wrong places. Since 2010 there has been an almost 40% real-terms cut in spending on planners, according to the public spending watchdog.

The NAO report follows claims from Conservative ministers that housebuilding is a top policy priority and that by the mid-2020s the rate will increase to 300,000 new homes a year. Between 2005-06 and 2017-18 the housebuilding rate has averaged 177,000 a year and the annual number has never exceeded 224,000.

While the number of completions has soared from around 124,000 in 2012 to 223,000 last year, the growth rate is tailing off and according to statistics we are still well below the 300,000 homes a year that the Government says we will need by the middle of the next decade. Meanwhile, house prices have rocketed, leaving a generation of young people struggling to come up with deposits in the tens of thousands needed to buy a home today. With the annual number of homes never exceeding 224,000 units you have to ask, how are we going to suddenly deliver 300,000 homes each year?Read the National Audit Office report here.

The planning system is underperforming according to National Audit Office

Civic Voice delegation attend Government conference on housing.

Last week, Chair of Civic Voice, Joan Humble led a delegation of civic society volunteers to a national conference hosted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). 

We were offered ten places to attend by MHCLG to ensure that communities had a voice in the debates throughout the day. Our director, Ian Harvey, was also asked by the Government to host a session on ‘Meaningful engagement with communities’. Our attendance at this conference was very timely and another success for Civic Voice as we were offered more places to the conference, than any other organisation, outside of Government. We allocated the places to individuals from civic societies that have donated to our fundraising campaign, or are involved in our working group. All representatives are Civic Voice members.
Board at BBBBC Conference
In response to a question from Joan Humble, Sir Roger Scruton, who is leading the Building Better Commission said; ‘We will be calling Civic Voice to give evidence to our work. It is important that we have the voice of the community involved.’ Our delegates had the opportunity to talk to senior Government officials and key individuals involved in the delivery of housing. Our message was clear, we need more effective and more meaningful engagement in the planning system.
Our attendance at this event was quite timely, as last week, we started the first of our round-tables on the Building Better Commission and we have now received over 750 responses to our survey  This is giving us a significant steer to inform our response to the Government’s review, but we now make an urgent call to all civic societies.

This is our time to make a difference. We can make a difference if we come together as a movement. It is important that we take it. If we believe in a better built environment, we need to work together to achieve it. 

Civic Voice delegation attend Government conference on housing.

Planning appeal decisions could be cut by 5 months

The most contentious planning cases could be decided up to 5 months faster, and some in half the time, giving certainty to communities about future developments, argues a major review led by Chair of Atom Bank, Bridget Rosewell CBE.

Mrs Bridget Rosewell CBE added: ‘It’s critical that all parts of the planning system contribute towards the efficient delivery of the homes we need as well as the refusal of those which don’t meet our high standards.  My review found, with commitment for all involved, that speeding up inquiries can be achieved through straightforward reforms, shaving months off the current time it takes for inspectors to make a decision.  I’m pleased my report has been welcomed by the government and the Planning Inspectorate and look forward to seeing these changes being implemented.’

The report made 22 recommendations. These range from committing the Planning Inspectorate to introducing a new online portal for the submission of inquiry appeals to setting out a strategy for recruiting additional inspectors so inquiries can be scheduled sooner, reducing the length of time they take to conclude.

The Planning Inspectorate will prepare an implementation plan which will set out precisely how it will deliver these recommendations.

The Rosewell Review is part of the government’s programme of reforms and targeted investment to ensure we deliver 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.The final report was published on 12 February 2019.

The government will now consider the findings before publishing a response in the coming months.

Planning appeal decisions could be cut by 5 months

Civic Voice call for stronger protection on non-designated heritage assets in Planning Policy by publishing national register of local authorities with a Local Heritage List

Research by Civic Voice, funded by Historic England’s Heritage Protection Commissions programme, shows that at least 168 local authorities across the country now have a Local Heritage List in place, giving greater protection to non-designated heritage assets. These authorities are active in listening to communities about what buildings, structures, sites and landscapes make the local area special.

The first national register of Local Heritage Lists is being published by Civic Voice today to inspire other communities to knock on the door of their local council and to campaign for more Local Heritage Lists to be created. The register is published alongside a new Civic Voice guide highlighting examples of local communities who have helped prepare Local Heritage Lists.

Sarah James, Civic Voice expert on Local Heritage Lists said: “Local planning authorities are encouraged to consider making clear and up-to-date information on their identified non-designated heritage assets, both in terms of the criteria used to identify assets and information about the location of existing assets, accessible to the public. We don’t think this goes far enough. By publishing this first national register we want to highlight that we have a long way to go to protect our local heritage. In our response to the draft National Planning Policy Framework we will be asking the Government to make it mandatory for local authorities to prepare a Local Heritage List.”

The Local Heritage List National Register and Local Heritage List Guide is available at

Civic Voice call for stronger protection on non-designated heritage assets in Planning Policy by publishing national register of local authorities with a Local Heritage List

Historic England publishes new advice with regard to Conservation Areas

This new advice note from Historic England supports the management of change in a way that conserves and enhances the character and appearance of historic areas through conservation area appraisal, designation and management.

The purpose of this Historic England Advice Note is to provide information on conservation area appraisals, designation and management to assist local authorities, planning and other consultants, owners, applicants and other interested parties such as civic societies and conservation area groups in implementing historic environment legislation.

This 2nd edition updates the advice in light of the publication of the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework and gives more information on the relationship with local and neighbourhood plans and policies. It has been updated to give more information on innovative ways of handling conservation appraisals, particularly community involvement beyond consultation, character assessment and digital presentation. It makes it clear that appraisals need to be easy for decision-makers to access, understand and navigate.

This new edition also emphasises the need for meaningful community engagement and highlights the example from Dover District Council who have worked with Civic Voice member, the Deal Society. The guide links to the template developed by Deal and says that this approach can be used by communities, when drafting community-led appraisals on behalf of the Council (see Deal Society Conservation Area Appraisal Toolkit). We are pleased the guidance picks up several Civic Voice points in regard to community participation. It says ‘Where consultation is undertaken it is good practice to prepare a report explaining: how community involvement and public consultation has been undertaken; how the input from the community was evaluated; and how it has influenced the final appraisal document and the recommendations

You can download the advice note here. Conservation area appraisal Heritage Advice Note 1

Historic England publishes new advice with regard to Conservation Areas

What do you do if a local authority has no conservation officer?

Blog by David Biggs, The Tamworth and District Civic Society (TDCS)

Following the announcement that the London Borough of Ealing decided to delete the role of conservation officer and in view of the Civic Voice campaign on conservation areas and officers, I thought you’d be interested in North Warwickshire Borough Council (NWBC) – part of whose geographical area comes within our remit in The Tamworth and District Civic Society – and the issue of unprotected heritage assets.

Because NWBC has no Conservation Officer, no Local Listing programme and no Locally-Listed Buildings whatsoever, and no Conservation Area Advisory Committee, its unprotected heritage assets are at real and constant danger of loss in the places within the borough without conservation areas.

Buildings like these are important and unique in their local context, but they are not going to meet the criteria set by Historic England for national listing. In an area without a Conservation Officer, Local Listing and a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to conservation and heritage, unprotected old buildings can be picked off one-by-one by developers.

The historic character and identity of many of our towns, villages and streets are being cumulatively eroded, because no protection is afforded, and officers and councillors have little if any planning grounds to reject applications.  We wonder how many other civic societies experience the same issue and concern?  It seems clear from Civic Voice communications, that this is happening elsewhere, and so is a major national issue.

The state and future of our nation’s conservation areas is of deep concern, but the civic movement should also be very worried about our unprotected heritage assets that we can’t get nationally-listed, or locally-listed, or placed into conservation areas.

It is therefore pleasing to see Civic Voice focus this year’s national conference on asking: “How can we balance conservation and regeneration?  Tamworth hopes to attend, and we look forward to hearing from Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, RTPI and RIBA about the future of conservation departments and the impact on our everyday heritage. We will also be attending the Midlands Meeting before then, and will be interested  to discover the extent to which our concerns and experiences are shared by other civic societies across our region.

*On the point about Local Heritage Listing, Civic Voice earlier this year published a new guide (available here) along with a new national register highlighting those local authorities who manage a Local Heritage List. We are asking Civic Voice members to help us to keep this database updated.

 ** Civic Voice’s Sarah James says: “I think this makes a really good point: what do you do if a local authority has no conservation officer, as there is zero chance of ever getting a local list. The everyday heritage outside of conservation areas will be lost”.

What do you do if a local authority has no conservation officer?

Mary Ash, Civic Voice East of England forum invites groups to network and discuss conservation areas.

On April 21st, several civic societies in the Eastern Region came together in Norwich with the express intention of forming an association of groups which had a regional closeness as well as civic interests in common.

Ian Harvey, of Civic Voice, had us comparing and discussing several basic but important matters which affect us all. Although we were a small group, there was much enthusiasm from those attending, and it was decided to meet in Great Yarmouth on September 22 to set up a more formal association.

We shall be open to any organisation which has an interest in its local community. We also hope to have some training on an issue close to most societies’ hearts, which is Conservation Area auditing.

Most of us have areas in our towns and cities which need conserving, and recording the features of buildings and public spaces in an agreed format goes a long way towards protecting them. So here is the programme for the day. Please let us know if you are able to send someone from your organisation, and let’s make this fledgling association fly!

Date: September 22, 2018
Venue: Christchurch, King Street Great Yarmouth, NR20 2HL
Time: 11.00am – 2.30 pm

Civic Voice’s Regional Association meeting are for Civic Voice members and other civic societies to meet and to give you the chance to develop your skills, network and be inspired by the work of others in the civic movement. .

The meeting will be led by Ian Harvey, Civic Voice Executive Director.

A light lunch will be available from St George’s Theatre nearby.
A short walk around the town afterwards should be fun.

Mary Ash, Civic Voice East of England forum invites groups to network and discuss conservation areas.