This week the Prime Minister announced his determination to ‘build, build, build’ and promised "the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War, making it easier to build". Most of us want to make sure that we have high quality homes that people can afford and the best possible public services to support them. However, I have serious concerns about the approach of the Government.

Last year we saw the awful situation of Watford Borough Council not having the power to stop a developer’s plans for tiny flats that did not even have windows or a proper fire escape. This was allowed under national ‘permitted development’ rules that allow offices to be converted into flats, something I have campaigned against. This week the Government said they want to expand this system so that ‘a wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application’. This means even less say for local communities and local councils. We will be powerless to stop developments that we do not think are right for our area and do not provide decent, safe accommodation.

In my first meeting with Watford’s MP we discussed the pressure councils such as Watford are under and he agreed to meet with officers at Watford Town Hall to hear about the problems we face. He heard that although we are the second smallest council in land area, we have seen our housing target from the government tripled to 800 dwellings every year. In 2018/19 we built a total of 268 new homes in Watford and so I received a letter from the Housing Minister earlier this year telling me that we must ‘consider all options available to you to increase housing supply’. We are being told that we must build more than Oxford, Cambridge or Brighton and I have no doubt that our housing target is unfair and unrealistic for a town of our size.

If the Government is serious about creating new communities that have the services people need, homes that residents can afford and are built to a high standard, they should be giving local people more say, not less. We deserve so much better than a strategy which involves handing even more power over to developers so that they can make as much profit as possible, and leaves our town with even less power to shape our own future.

  • Peter Taylor is Elected Mayor of Watford