Had to start a discussion today (18 March 2010), at the London Planning and Development Forum, on the UK Conservative Party’s “Green paper” on planning. It’s bad, but i was trying to make light of it. [Later: this text later appeared in Issue 73 of Planning in London Ap-Jun, along with some other, more normal, reviews.]
Comments of an old socialist on Tory plans for planning
Thanks for asking me to comment. I’m an old socialist, thoroughly enraged by New Labour’s wholesale adoption of the neo-liberal legacy from the Thatcher period. They caved in to developer and volume housebuilder lobbies, ‘reformed’ local government in ways that make it less democratic, insisted on the tube PPP and other privatisations, refused to create proper development corporations to do the Thames Gateway and in all sorts of ways sustained the asset value bubble which has now brought us all to grief, reinforced the worst social class inequality in western Europe and now threatens us with huge cuts in the social wage to pay for last year’s compensations to banking shareholders. And they haven’t even taken global warming seriously. If that’s what a Labour Party can do, perhaps the Tories will be better.
Some of the highlights are indeed appealing and with my tinted spectacles I could see them as welcome reforms:
1. More local democracy would be grand. At last someone grasps the nettle. Imagine building up the Camden or Hackney Borough plan from the fragments worked out in localities!
Getting rid of unelected regional bodies sounds good too.
but this version just looks like a NIMBY charter, with no mechanisms to enable the weak and deprived to negotiate with the rich and strong, either between parishes or at a sub-regional/regional scale, where the replacement is NOTHING.
2. Third party rights of appeal where a permission is a departure from the development plan is a great idea. It would really give the development plan some weight if elected members and officers could no longer drown those hard-won policies in ‘other material considerations’ like regeneration benefits, conservation benefits, viability, and so on.
This reform would probably lapse if they get into power as I recall happened to a similar manifesto proposal from Labour in 1997. Pity
3. Flexibility between clusters of use classes where specified, or not excluded, in the development plan. That sounds interesting for places with lots of vacancy, and it’s a welcome departure from ‘one size fits all’. This one has to be read along with the presumption in favour of ‘sustainable developments’. It moves the UK towards a continental system of entitlement to development rights except where those rights are explicitly circumscribed in the plan. Could this be a serious attack on our utterly dysfunctional, car-dependent, settlement pattern?
Does this mean that only zero-carbon buildings which generate mainly pedestrian, cycle and equine trips will be permitted development? No, because ‘sustainability’ means whatever each LPA says it means in its local plan. And once that local plan is approved then that definition of sustainability is sanctified for that area. A local authority could define it in terms of financial viability, or as vegetable gardens large enough to support a family….
4. Finally these incentives. It’s good to see that LPAs will be incentivised to encourage development and thus prevent the NIMBY triumph.
It’s clear from experience in parts of Spain that, if you make the financial incentives big enough, you can have local authorities approving development on a vast scale, quite unrelated to demand or need or ‘sustainability’. But I don’t believe that a single rate of incentive which the Tories propose will work equally well in Berkhamsted and Corby, Redbridge and Wandsworth. The other proposed use of incentives is for developers to buy off the individuals or localities which object to projects: very regressive and nasty.
So I don’t buy it after all. And I’m not sure the Tories’ regular customers will buy it either. It has plenty in it for the defence of residential privilege, but not nearly enough to satisfy the BPF, the HBF and the financial sector behind them. There are, as always, tensions within the bourgeoisie. So far as “material planning considerations” go, I still have no-one to vote for.
Interestingly the meeting couldn’t find anything positive to say.