• Development Intelligence

Where’s the much delayed Planning White Paper?

First it was last summer. Then the autumn. Then Q1. Then around the March Budget. And so it goes on. Each time our planning consultancy friends slip into a fevered state of heightened arousal with publication imminent, their fingers quivering with excitement over the refresh button on MHCLG’s website, their hopes are dashed by the latest planning minister – and God knows they come and go often enough – as it gets delayed yet again. What is going on?

Truth is, planning is never popular. It’s not a vote winner. It always throws up some opposition from the usual suspects led by CPRE and all the greenies and meanies. So the delay in the second half of last year in advance of the General Election was inevitable. Delay is the ‘go to’ tactic for any government organisation.

But the latest 2020 delay, we hear you say, is all about Coronavirus, surely?

Nope. Although that will clearly affect it. No the latest delay is all about Jack Airey. Who’s he, we hear you cry? He is the recently appointed housing and planning SPAD at No 10. You’re all going to need to get to know him because he may be about to change your life.

Jack was until recently at Policy Exchange, the Tories ‘on trend’ think tank. And he co-authored this beauty: Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century.

Whether Jack would classify as one of Dom Cummings weirdos we don’t know, but the report is pretty ‘out there’. You really all need to read it. Because even before Coronavirus was getting going in Wuhan’s wet market or the USA’s Biological Command – depending on whether you listen to Mr Trump or the Chinese government’s fake news warriors – this report was already going to rock your world.

Having only arrived in No 10 just before the White Paper was due to be published, naturally Jack wanted to shoehorn some of his ‘free thinking’ into it. So what was in the Policy Exchange report? Here’s some juicy tasters for you:

  • Kill off use classes and just have two zones – land you can develop and land you can’t. And if it says you can’t, the Government should really mean it, unlike greenbelt currently which is forever being ‘released’ and developed.

  • Review the greenbelt – rather than a ‘general area’ on a map, identify the specific green areas that should be protected but release all the previously developed land or rather ‘brown’ bits of the greenbelt for development.

  • Let the market determine what’s to be built – no prescriptive planning restrictions, just some simple building regs. Let the market rip.

  • Much shorter and less constraining local plans – we have heard this so many times before so forgive the DI team’s metaphorical eye roll on this one.

  • Take councillors out of development control – imagine politicians agreeing to having fewer politicians involved; it’ll never catch on!

Radical stuff. Some of you may like it. But let us not forget that Sir Humphrey and his troops will be pouring a lot of cold water all over much of it.

Now since the Whiter Paper’s most recent delay, Coronavirus has arrived and with the much projected recession it could bring, young Jack will be pushing even harder that now is the time to be bold and decisive and really shake up the planning system to re-invent it for the post Coronavirus and Brexit age.

We’ll see…

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