Sneakily launched on July 25, just before the parliamentary recess, the Government’s proposals to reform the planning system have not been subject to a parliamentary vote. They’ve not even been debated in parliament. In fact, they’ve got no further than the public consultation phase. And yet, the Coalition is so keen to get the Draft National Policy Planning Framework approved that the Government’s Planning Inspectorate has stipulated that it’s recommendations should inform planning decisions now! Already!
Of course we need new homes. We’re building less and less. The National Housing Federation recently forecast that just 64 per cent of us will own our own homes in ten years’ time, compared with 72.5 per cent ten years ago. People are said to be postponing starting families because they have no home of their own. There needs to be incentives for development as part of a growth agenda. But…
But that doesn’t mean we should allow our green and pleasant land to become a concrete jungle of housing estates, car parks, wind farms, factories and more and more branches of Tesco Extra. That doesn’t mean we should give developers carte blanche to convert our pleasant pastures and clouded hills into swathes of tarmac and concrete or regiments of white whirling dervishes .
In a speech to the Tory party’s spring conference earlier this year, David Cameron said the only strategy for growth was to get behind Britain’s entrepreneurs and declare war on the “enemies of enterprise”. When he criticised “the town hall officials who take forever to make those planning decisions that can be make or break for a business – and the investment and jobs that go with it”, most people assumed he intended to cut red tape and simplify the process. Clearly he intended much more than that. He meant that the town hall should rubber-stamp applications by adopting “a presumption in favour of sustainable development”. In other words, construction plans should be approved by default.
The Homes and Communities Agency says unlocking brownfield land is the key to a sustainable future. We don’t need to open up the countryside for new building development.
In any case, planning constraints are not the problem. The slowdown in development has been driven by a lack of available credit and aggravated by potential buyers waiting for purchase prices to drop further. I’m sure the government is well aware of that. So what’s really going on? The answer, I suspect, is blowin’ in the wind. The planning reforms are deviously intended to facilitate the proliferation of grant assisted wind turbines.