Barrister Christopher Katkowski brands ‘slums of the future’ accusation ’crass’
One of the chief government advisers behind last week’s radical planning reforms has hit out at the “mischaracterisation” of the proposals, which critics have described as a recipe for “slums of the future”
Planning barrister Christopher Katkowski QC (pictured, left) was one of a six-strong task force of industry experts brought together by government without consultation to advise on the proposals, finally announced last week.
Answering questions on the “Planoraks” blog site, Katowski said he had spent “much of launch day shouting at the radio” and branded the “slums of the future” criticism as “crass”.
The government proposals launched by housing secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured, right) will see all land zoned in to three different categories – growth, renewal, and protection – with land zoned for growth benefitting from automatic outline planning permission. The proposals will also see the ripping up the current system of developer contributions via section 106 payments and the Community Infrastructure Levy, and the introduction of new stripped back local plans.
Katkowski said that, contrary to much of the reporting of the proposals, the new system will actually give “far more power to councillors and local people” to determine what is built where. He said: “I spent much of launch day shouting at the radio as commentator after commentator said ridiculous things about the proposals - I’m very sad to see the big ideas so mischaracterised, in many cases by people saying that the proposals are the exact opposite of what we’ve put forward.”
His comments come despite the fact the new system proposes instituting a fast-track process to produce local plans, with one fewer consultation stage, and as well proposes removing the opportunity for local people to attempt to stop developments at application stage within “growth zones”.
However, Katkowski said: “The statement made that we would create the next generation of slums is crass and I was exceptionally disappointed at the source of the statement - in fact the proposals would create a charter for building places where we would be proud to live; of all the things that have been said by critics, the “slums of the future” comment is the most absurd.
It is not exactly clear which critic of the government’s planning reforms Katkowski is referring to. A letter last week to housing secretary Robert Jenrick from the chair of the Town and Country Planning Association, Mary Parsons, who was also a commissioner on the government’s own Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, used the “slums of the future” phrase, but in that case was referring to the government’s expansion of permitted development rights.
However, Riba president Alan Jones said the reforms contained in the planning white paper could lead to the next generation of slum housing, but did not use the specific “slums of the future” phrease.
Asked if the system could be made to work if it was simply better resourced, Katkowski said: “you cannot be serious! Are you joking?”
His comments came as the TCPA, one of the fiercest critics of the government’s reforms published a book of essays it said were by “independent planning academics”, writing in response to the proposals. In the executive summary of the report, the academics said: “We are deeply concerned that this agenda has been driven by ideologically-motivated free-market think tanks and self-interested property lobbies rather than sound evidence.”
It added that the assertions justifying the radical reform to the system lacked any evidence, pointing out that the system already permitted 90% of applications, with up to one million permissions left unbuilt. It said: “The proposals are incoherent, will undermine democratic controls, reduce the quality of new development, and waste an important opportunity to build safer, healthier, more equal, and more environmentally sustainable places.”
The government confirmed the existence of the planning taskforce on which Christopher Katkowski sat when it published the white paper last week. The other five members of the taskforce were: property developer Sir Stuart Lipton; property consultant Miles Gibson; economist and former chair of the government’s review of planning appeals, Bridget Rosewell; Building Better Building Beautiful commissioner Nicholas Boys Smith, and economist Dr Tim Leunig, also an adviser to the department for Education.
This article was amended on August 12 2020 to make clear Mary Parsons did not describe the government’s white paper as likely to lead to the “slums of the future”