On the heels of the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, Michael Gove’s department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has revealed proposals for “Street Votes” ostensibly as a further measure to reach the government’s house-building targets.
First floated in 2021 by right wing think tank Policy Exchange as part of its Strong Suburbs paper, “Street Votes” will give communities the opportunity to vote on proposals for extensions, alterations or replacement dwellings in the locality. The proposals must comply with “strict development and design rules” to be determined at a national level in due course, which suggests that they may bypass local development plan policies restricting certain types of development, and possibly interfere with permitted development rights.
Proposals submitted under the Street Votes scheme will only be permitted to go ahead if approved by a “super majority” of those eligible to vote in the referendum, however the details of how this mechanism is to be operative are yet to be revealed.
It is not clear how the scheme will in fact contribute to the nation’s housing stock. Mr Gove told the Telegraph that the policy was aimed at ensuring local support for the “gentle densification” of housing. Critics may well argue that instead the scheme will allow existing homeowners to increase the value of their properties, make it harder for first time buyers to get onto the ladder, and do nothing to address the real housing need.
In addition, far from simplifying the planning system, Street Votes may also introduce a further layer of complexity on top of the existing regime. According to the Department’s press office, the Street Votes scheme will not be a replacement of household planning applications or neighbourhood plans, and if that is the case, conflict between these processes is inevitable.
Supporters of the scheme point to the democratisation of the planning process at local level and argue that Street Votes will encourage residents to get more involved in local planning decisions, helping to shape their communities and increasing a sense of belonging. As with many of the government’s recent announcements aimed at planning reform, the detail on how this is to be achieved is still awaited. Another space to watch in the world of planning reform.
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