Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Scrap planning laws and urban growth boundaries, and go back to property rights

Give some credit to Nick Boles, he's actually making an effort to confront part of the problem with housing - the socialist central planning focused planning laws that make just about any alteration to a property a matter, not for the property owner, but for "society".

That means the immediate neighbours, the near neighbours, the people down the road, the local residents' association, the local environmental group, maybe a competing business, a charity and of course, the council itself.  

Your property isn't yours, and it isn't about protecting the property rights of others, it is simply about gaining the consent of those whose property it isn't.  In other words, it is communitarianism.

So I applaud the attempts to simplify planning laws, to make it easier for property owners to build on their own land, and to change the use of properties from commercial to residential purposes.

However, it isn't enough.  The fundamental philosophy behind the planning system is rooted in 1940s style socialism - the belief that property is communal, not private.

This needs to be scrapped and replaced with a new approach, based entirely on private property rights.

The starting point should be that you can do as you wish with your own land and buildings, with the first limit being not acting to infringe upon the same rights of others.  You can't build to overhang the property of another, or dig under the property of another.

Following that are limits on acting to trespass on the property of another through a discharge, such as liquids, gases including smoke, and also noise.  There would be reasonable limits on these (non-toxic and non-nuisance gases, and noise that does not affect reasonable enjoyment of the property).

Finally, there would be the granting of property rights to cover matters such as air rights, sight lines and the like, and to recognise already confirmed planning approvals.  In other words converting existing permissions and some restrictions which are critical to the value of the property.

What would this mean?  You could build an extension to your house, but probably not one several stories high that blocks out all sun from your neighbour.   You could paint your house a different colour.  More importantly, you could run a business from there, as long as noise and emissions did not unreasonably interfere with your neighbours.

If you had an empty section, you could build a home on it, as long as you respected the property rights of your neighbours (including sight lines if relevant), paid for all of the utility connections yourself and did not put your neighbours' properties at unreasonable risk of harm (e.g. fire).  

You wouldn't need to meet environmental standards, although you may choose to do so.  You wouldn't need to build "affordable" housing.  You simply wouldn't have to meet any collective goals imposed by local planners.  You could just build.  There remains an issue for "listed buildings" of course, and those who have bought them have done so effectively with a restriction on property rights.  That should be able to be appealed or "bought out" at a certain price, but that should one of the issues debated.  Along with that should be a far tighter process for imposing heritage listings upon properties at all - those who wish to do so should buy a property right in such properties and hold them, paying the owner for them once.  It is unacceptable that some committee should just take away property rights "for the greater good".

A similar issue arises with compulsory acquisitions, which should be done away with.  The appropriate way to deal with buying property you want for private or public purposes, is price.

Simply transforming property rights would make a huge difference to unlocking existing land for building, and existing properties for conversions, expansion and development.  Yes it would mean farmland could be converted to housing.   No, we wouldn't starve, as it would really only be around the periphery of London and a few other cities that there might be much such development.  

Yes, it would result in some wacky architecture that would upset some.  So what.  Yes, it would result in some cheap buildings being built, or some ugly ones, but then so what?  Someone paid for that.  If you didn't want it there, maybe you should have bought it?

However, real reform has to go further.  Urban growth boundaries have to be abolished.  The current boundaries, in the form of the green belt land, needs to be opened up for development.   In London, halving the green belt land would double, yes double the land available for housing in the metropolitan region.  Consider what that would do for affordable housing!  Consider what it would do for overcrowding and for enabling more to have larger, quieter, more comfortable homes.

Yet to confront this one needs to take on the environmental lobby and say no to the current ideology - called "new urbanism", "intensification" and the like.  That philosophy says people should live in higher density housing to reduce energy costs and to encourage use of public transport.  In essentially, people should sacrifice space and quiet for the goals of central planners.

This approach has inflated housing costs as demand never meets supply, and has produced a privileged property owning class based on generations.  As those who were able to afford a home in the 1960s and 1970s now have properties worth many multiples of the inflation adjusted price of their original purchase, all because demand exceeds supply.

Some will claim the countryside will get built over, but this is nonsense.  According to the BBC, only 2.3% of England is built on.  It would be extraordinary to expect that to even double, but then even if it did so what?  More people would have affordable homes, affordable because of the market, not subsidies from taxpayers.  More would have additional rooms, more space, more quiet and a higher standard of living as a result.  

It's time to scrap the planning laws of the 1940s in their entirety and start again, based on private property rights.  Establish a new system whereby all property owners know, with their titles, what they can build and change, and then what would be left of planning law would be to arbitrate disputes over property rights, and gaining agreement to use the property of others.

While we are at it, surrender half of the green belt, either by sale or by offering proportionate amounts to adjoining land owners (or both), and let the market resolve the housing crisis, by setting some land free.  Of course this should be done judiciously, so that areas that remain are those containing endangered species and sensitive ecosystems, but let's not preserve open space for the sake of it.

There are strong vested interests opposed to this, not least people with existing homes seeking to preserve their inflated values, and environmentalists who are willing to sacrifice people's living space for trees.

No comments:

Post a Comment