The Prime Minister has announced what are presented as radical reforms of the Planning System (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-build-build-build).
But who will these benefit ?
The Government is careful to profile what it will mean for households. Less bureaucracy for extending your home. Anyone who has dealt with planners and the planning system will be highly likely to approve of this.
But the headline changes presented in the media are a bluff. The real changes are the increased freedom to redevelop commercial premises in our town centres.
So what’s likely to happen ? Mass conversions to residential, and a massive loss of retail and hospitality. For whose benefit ? Well, allegedly an easing of the shortage of new housing, but in reality this is almost a blank cheque for developers.
There used to be a popular joke among economists (yes, economists do joke occasionally, usually with their forecasts) that if the Government wants to stimulate the economy, they pay a bunch of people to dig a ditch from e.g. Manchester to London, and when they’re done, they pay another bunch to fill it in again. Lots of jobs created, money injected into the economy, no lasting damage done.
Well this Government’s proposed changes look suspiciously similar, with some notable ‘modernisation’ of the concept. The Government doesn’t pay a penny, they provide a blank cheque to developers (who are mostly Tory-inclined in their views) and they claim that they are serving the people. And a lot of fairly severe, probably irreversible damage, is done.
These changes are not about improving the Planning System. They are about providing an economic stimulus which the Government doesn’t have to pay for. The principal beneficiaries will be developers and property investors (mostly foreign, no doubt). Benefit to the Nation : not very much.
Yes, there will be an economic stimulus for builders (the ones who get their hands dirty) and associated trades.
Yes, there will be new homes built. Although with planning approval given for a MILLION new homes which have been approved and never actually built, there are many other ways to improve the number of homes available.
Yes, homeowners can make relatively easy house extensions rather than be forced into expensive home moves.
But is that enough to compensate for the impact on our town centres ? Loss of small retail premises and hospitality venues. A town centre should not be a dormitory zone. Beware the hidden outcomes from these notionally popular changes.
Absolutely not ! The planning system is turgid, slow, bureaucratic, incomprehensible and run too much on cosy relationships between professional developers and unelected civil servants who use the complexity of the system to enslave normal residents while pandering to the professional developers who know the loopholes and do back-room deals with the planners.
The Time Party wholeheartedly supports fundamental reform for the planning system. But that’s the point : FUNDAMENTAL. Despite the Government presenting these changes as radical, they are nothing more than a sticking plaster in terms of real change. And they do nothing to disrupt the inherent issues with the system.
We only need to look abroad for examples of really good town centre design, excellent imaginative building design (including how to do high-rise properly without creating ghettos).
It CAN be done. Let’s do it. But not like Boris’ Trojan Horse. Beware what’s going to come out of this sham exercise.
By the way, it’s still a consultation. Make sure you get your opposing views registered. (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/907647/MHCLG-Planning-Consultation.pdf)
This Trojan Horse is not bearing gifts. A few bribes to homeowners perhaps, but hiding in its belly a hidden army of unscrupulous developers. Do not fear looking in this horse’s mouth. And preferably give it one hell of a whack on its withers, so it runs away , never to be seen again.