Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A general election is coming, which means more planning changes are too


The general election campaign starting pistol has well-and-truly now been fired and the prominence of the housing crisis in the national conciousness means that planning will have a high profile in the respective campaigns.

Of the two main parties it is the Conservative’s strategist’s that have the hardest task over the next twelve months. If I had a pound for every time I’d heard “Yes, absolutely, we need new homes, but I just don’t think this is the right place for them (‘The NIMBY’s creed), I’d have, well, a few pounds. How to endorse then a call for new homes nationally whilst at the same time conveying to MPs and residents an impression that there are grounds to object locally?

The tangle that students of planning and public policy will remember this Government for is that it sold, and continues to sell, 'local decision-making', when it should have sold 'local decision-making provided that you have a Local Plan that meets objectively assessed housing need and makes provision for a five year supply'. When it became apparent that, in practice, local decision-making means either saying no or choosing to kick a can down the road, attempts to drive development from the centre were used by the CPRE and others to portray a taking back of powers that were never really offered in the first place.

This Telegraph piece from the weekend shows Labour’s strategists have the easier task because they can cynically choose to ignore the lessons of this Government and keep playing the localism card. Localism is the policy of opposition. Not only is it a well-meaning and attractive-sounding counterweight to 'top-down' Government planning via the Planning Inspectorate, but it is also the default setting of local residents faced with new development.

What then might the next parliament bring? History shows a tendency for new Governments to mark their arrival with planning legislation or reform so what might be expected if the Conservatives or Labour win outright next year? Whilst I am not sure I agree with David Cameron's assertion that planning has been "radically changed", it is certainly true that the development management process has been liberalised and think tanks like Policy Exchange will be promoting a stream-lined policy regime with local communities receiving direct payments for accepting new development. Labour has announced a call for decentralisation based around local economic areas, which might yield a return to the sub-regional planning advocated by the Centre For Cities.

What can be said with certainty is that when the political landscape changes, a change in the planning landscape is never far behind.

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