Planning Wars

With the population in England on the increase, the government hopes to see three million new homes available in the next decade.

But where are these homes going to be built? And who’s going to decide?

Planning Wars looks at the country’s planning system and discovers a row over one house can last for five years raising the question, ‘is the system ready to deal with the increase in property being built?’

The programme looks at the disputes between local authorities and multi-million pound developers, the heated argument between one builder and his neighbours over his house and meets a campaigner battling against developments on green belt land.

The documentary also speaks to a member of the Home Builders Federation who warns that Britain is facing becoming a divided society if more affordable housing is not made available.

The programme examines some of the planning rows taking place at the moment over developments from airport runways to garden decking.

At Heathrow, protesters are fighting a bitter battle against plans to extend the airport and wipe out an entire village of 700 homes. Angry residents – some of whom have lived there for almost 50 years – tell the programme they do not want to move.

Linda McCutcheon, who has lived there for 41 years, says: “It’s like fighting a war – you don’t underestimate your enemy, and we don’t.

“We appear to be laid back but we’re not, we’re channelling all our anger into the campaign. Behind the scenes we are still working and we will carry on doing that work until we get a decision, and hopefully the right decision.”

The film features footage from the protests against the airport and Lord Soley of Hammersmith, the Campaign Director for Future Heathrow, gives his views, saying that expansion of the airport is vital to keep workers at the airport employed.

The documentary also meets the campaign group working against the erection of three 120m turbines in their village. The turbines will power 3000 homes a year, but the villagers say they are an eye-sore.

As they prepare to mount a demonstration, one man tells the programme: “I think they are a carbuncle on the landscape. They are far too high.”

The country’s green belt land is also coming under threat from developers and in St Albans there are plans to build five rail freight warehouses the size of an airport terminal on green belt land.

The film meets members of the group as they stage a protest against the development and one says: “It seems nuts to me the whole idea that they’re going to plonk it right here, it’s one of the busiest road networks in the country. We’re afraid it’s going to come to a complete meltdown.”

Up to 10,000 acres of green belt land is also expected to be sacrificed for new homes and Kevin Fitzgerald from the Campaign to Protect Rural England says he will fight plans to build on it in the South East.

He says: “The South East is under major, major threat of becoming one urban or suburban sprawl and really you can’t afford to let that happen. Nobody will thank us in future generations for allowing this.”

But supporters for new developments say building more homes is crucial to the British economy and that there is a risk of a division in society if more affordable housing is not made available.

John Slaughter from the Home Builders Federation says: “There certainly are areas in the South East and otherwise where we have to look at it again and make sure that where green belt location is the best location that we’re brave enough to use that.

”We’re risking having a situation where people who already own their own homes can bequeath wealth to their children which will eventually enable them to buy their own homes. But people who don’t are going to be cut out of the market on a long term basis… so there is likely to be a bigger social divide if we don’t actually get housing supply right.”

The film looks at developments in other areas, such as waste land, land previously built on and even people’s gardens. In North Yorkshire a row has broken out after one man bought a plot of land in between existing homes and erected a five-bedroom house without full planning permission.

The row has been rumbling on for five years and his furious neighbours tell the programme that they think the house is too big and too close to them.

One says: “This is our home, but that is the effect on us, overlooking us. The primary factor about the property that we don’t like is simply that it’s big, intrusive.”

Despite Peter Howell, the homeowner, making several changes, his local planning committee planned to tear it down. The film follows Peter as he manages to secure a last minute injunction to stop the bulldozers rolling in.

But the documentary sees tempers flare when further plans he submits are rejected and his furious son slashes the tyres of their neighbour’s van.

Eventually Peter decided to abandon the site and wind up his developing company with a loss of £400,000. The local council now have to find the funds to tear the house down.

The programme meets the action group trying to stop a Sainsbury’s being built in their community as they feel it will take trade away from local business owners. The group conducted a secret postal referendum and discovered 85 per cent of people did not want it to be built. But despite being presented with these figures, Sainsbury’s ignored the locals’ wishes and decided to press ahead with their plans.

Kevin Fitzgerald adds that he believes the democracy is going out of planning disputes because the multi-million pound developers will always be able to afford to fight the battle until the end.

He says: “There is no question that the developers with lots of money have the edge on local authorities who have their money very, very tightly constrained. And it is tax payers’ money. They have to be very careful what they do with it and the sums of money in some of these public enquiries are huge, so it drives away the democratic side of this.

“Your local authority…and the local residents find they cannot see it through to the end on sheer financial ground because they are up against big businesses who have more money than local authorities do.”

On a smaller scale, town planner Marcus Berrisford explains to the programme his role in making sure laws are obeyed – and the cameras follow him as he visits a man who has erected decking on his roof terrace to stop his neighbours peering into his house.

Marcus says: “What we do find sometimes is some absolutely phenomenal, monstrous lots of decking going up, which you could literally berth super tankers up against. We get the complaints on a Monday morning after somebody’s been to B&Q on a Saturday.”

The film follows Marcus as he tells the man he will have to take his decking down.

The planners can handle small scale local disputes like this but with three million new houses and expanding infrastructure, much of Britain is in for a period of great change – will the planning system be able to cope?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009, 8:00PM – 9:00PM