May 13, 2022 - 1:30pm

When the Government announced its support for “Street Votes” this week, I was expecting a positive reaction.

After all, who wouldn’t welcome a policy that would allow local residents to replace low-density post-war housing with Georgian-style terraces or other forms of well-designed, higher-density housing? It’s a win-win-win solution that would enable the construction of more homes where they’re needed most, improve the look of urban areas, and provide a financial incentive for existing residents.

But, of course, there is no planning reform — no matter how brilliantly conceived — that won’t provoke a backlash. And so it is with Street Votes.

For instance, in the Guardian we have the CPRE pouring cold water over the government’s announcement: “We don’t think it will provide any more affordable homes, [it] will make existing homes in urban areas less affordable, and there are no guarantees it will lead to more homes overall.”

We don’t know exactly how the Government will implement Street Votes, but the CPRE ought to look at how the policy was originally conceived by Policy Exchange and CreateStreets — for instance here and here. The policy is about allowing residential streets — especially in areas where space is at the greatest premium — to shift to architectural forms that allow more and better homes to be provided. For instance, by going from shoddy bungalows to beautifully-built apartment blocks. 

One variant of the Street Votes proposal is all about creating new homes where there were none at all — by making it easier to redevelop rows of lock-up garages and other wasted spaces. Therefore, the criticism that the new policy is all about making it easier for existing homeowners to make their houses bigger (and thus more expensive) is just plain wrong.

Someone else who gets it wrong is Jackie Weaver of YouTube fame. Writing for the i newspaper, she seems to think that the Street Votes policy is about allow people to “veto planning applications in their area”. This suggests that the proposal is to establish direct democracy over all planning decisions: “I dread to imagine how even the smallest planning application will fare under this system.”

However, Street Votes have nothing to do with ordinary planning applications of whatever size. The man down the road will not suddenly get the power to veto your shed. Rather it’s a vote on the adoption of a new design code for an entire street or block — and is intended to facilitate development, not stand in its way. 

We have a housing crisis in this country — and it’s getting worse. Unless we act now then the lives of an entire generation will be permanently blighted. The status quo is unsustainable — and so is the equal and opposite error of ripping up the entire planning system. 

Thus what we need are intelligent, imaginative solutions. But we won’t get them if the Government doesn’t take a stand against the petty-minded naysayers who’d rather react to a headline than give change a chance.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.