• Development Intelligence

Cummings’ departure and the Planning White Paper

So the White Paper’s consultation period has ended. And we now know that 44,000 responses have been received by MHCLG. Yes, 44,000! Call the DI team old cynics if you will, but we’ll just make a wild guess that not all of them are 100% positive and supportive. Just a hunch.

As we have been saying for some time, this will inevitably slow down the White Paper’s metamorphosis into a new Planning Bill. Even this year’s Planning Minister, Chris Pincher – they come and go so often that it’s effectively an annual appointment these days – commented this week:

“The consultation isn’t the end of the process, but the start. We shouldn’t expect to implement what’s in the White Paper in the near future. More people will be involved as we refine our proposals, identify key themes and turn these into work streams, so when we come to legislate, we get it right. It will be a big Bill.”

A “big Bill” with a ‘big delay’, more likely. And now the newly appointed MHCLG Chief Planner, Joanna Averley, has gone public that the White Paper process may take “a couple of years”.

But events of the last few days now also hang heavily over the White Paper. Dom Cummings’ departure will have an impact on the certainty and timing of the process for sure. He was the architect of the ‘weirdo’ big thinkers who were there to shake Government up. It was he who brought Jack Airey into No 10 from Policy Exchange to rewrite the White Paper to explicitly redesign the planning system, almost from scratch. It was he who was driving the revolution, veering very pointedly away from the previous, more calm evolutionary approach.

The Government is now going through its ‘reset’ moment and, in the wake of Cummings’ departure, is promising to ‘listen’ more to what backbenchers are saying. And there are few if any saying anything very nice about these reforms. Indeed, there is a large group of Tory backbenchers who have specifically formed a ‘research group’ (doesn’t bode well!) to fight the White Paper proposals. If the Cummings era of ‘crossing the street to pick a fight’ is over, surely this is one battle Boris and his new, less aggressive, more consensual team may work hard to avoid? U-turns have been aplenty in the last few months. Planning reform reverse gears, anyone?

With Cummings and Cain no more, the zealots have moved on and thus so may much of the reforming zeal. Young Jack Airey is likely to find himself with dwindling support for such a radical change moment.

Just as we have predicted for the last few months.