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Field day for developers

Opposing the deregulation of planning could unite strange bedfellows says Bob Colenutt
30 August 2011


Remember how the forests sell off was achieved by an alliance of anti-privatisation groups and Tory countryside lovers? The same alliance could come into play with the recent announced planning for deregulation of the planning system.

The coalition policy is contained with the draft National Planning Policy Framework released in July 2011. The key policy change at the heart of the document is ‘the presumption in favour of sustainable development’.

The non-controversial part of this is the word ‘sustainable’ which the framework says means preserving resources for future generations, taking into account economic, social and environmental considerations.

But the concern is whether this is meaningful, or honest, given the overriding concern of the government is growth and development.  In effect, the word ‘sustainable’ equates with any new proposal for development.   The politics are clear, the bottom lines of the  development industry and business will prevail. And if local authorities and communities resist, lawyers for the developers will have a field day in court citing the ‘presumption’.

For a countryside in the South East which is mobilised against new housing this sounds like very bad news– and not what they elected a Tory/Lib Dem government for. As Camilla Cavendish wrote in the Times on 4 August: ‘Building in shires could demolish the Tory vote – relaxing planning rules to promote growth will cause an uproar that could dwarf the row over selling off forests.’

The NIMBYs are up in arms – and  so are many other considered voices. The National Trust, CPRE, FoE and other groups are joining the clamour against the relaxation fearing building in the countryside which they had so relentlessly opposed when Labour was in office.

Thus the Tory-led  growth programme for the South East looks very similar to the Labour one, albeit with more emphasis on business in distinction to Labour’s central government-imposed housing targets. In both cases local democracy gets short shrift.

Indeed, the framework runs straight up against the flagship Tory policy of  localism. The localism voice sits uncomfortably with the presumption voice of government.  How can you have local determination of planning schemes if the national policy is that there is a presumption in favour of giving planning permission - before the community has had its say?  It makes no sense.

What should be the response of the left? In principle, we should support regulation of the land use planning system, but advocate going further to limit land prices and redistribute the benefits of high land values to poorer areas and to local communities. More housing in the South East is needed, particularly affordable housing. But the Tory market-led approach does not ensure balanced communities, affordable homes, decent design and environmental protection because of the presumption rule.

Thus, the need for an alliance to stop the white paper and to address the impasse between the NIMBYs and those who want to see a more socially just land, property and planning system.


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