Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Big ideas

I try to keep up-to-date by keeping an eye on the DCLG website among others, but it seems that proposed changes to the planning system are in fact being driven from the Cabinet Office, judging by various material released yesterday.

It seems the government is pressing ahead with the Tories’ “Big Society” ideas, and are promising (or threatening) that they will “radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live” and “will abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils”. They have been wittering on about these ideas for some time, and it seems they really are going to try to put them into action. One can only hope that ‘Sir Humphrey’, together with the Tories’ friends in the development industry will explain in words of one syllable what those ideas would really mean in practice. If they fail to get through to the government, then ‘Gawd’ help us.

On the other hand, homeowners already established on the property ladder can rub their hands with glee at the prospect of even greater house price rises in future as the supply of new housing dwindles to a trickle, and unmet demand pushes house prices through the roof. Even buy-to-rent is likely to make a big comeback in the face of the resulting housing famine.

A further thought occurs to me. If (as seems to be the case), it is the Cabinet Office that is driving the agenda, then my confidence in ‘Sir Humphrey’s’ ability to head ministers off may be misplaced. Bold statements made by the Cabinet Office, setting out the government’s policies and intentions in relation to town and country planning, as well as other subjects, may leave other departments (such as DCLG) with little option other than to toe the line and obediently try to put those policies into practice, however impracticable they may privately think they are. Thus DCLG may be forced to work up legislative proposals to implement the government’s stated policies, without having had any input into those policies or any opportunity to comment on them in any meaningful way. This does not bode well for the future.


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