Thursday, 13 May 2010

Where to now, Guv ?


With a change of government, we can no doubt expect some changes of direction in planning policy, but these are being announced from the Cabinet Office, rather than from DCLG (see other more recent posts).

One change of policy which emerged within 24 hours of the new government being formed – Government support for a third runway (plus Terminal 6) at Heathrow has been abandoned. Whilst BAA, as a private sector body, are still free to promote it, it stands little chance of success without government support.

I initially thought that in the new situation following the formation of the Tory – LibDem coalition, the identity of the Secretary of State, and in particular the Planning Minister might have some effect on policy. However, in light of subsequent policy announcements, it seems that the government is steaming ahead with its proposals.

The new Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, was a long-serving Tory councillor in Yorkshire and was leader of the council in Bradford between 1988 and 1991, before entering the Commons in 1992. So he presumably has some knowledge of the planning system, although being an elected member is certainly not an automatic guarantee of that!

He has previously shadowed both transport and communities and local government, among other opposition roles. More recently he was Tory Party Chairman (a position he has now relinquished on taking up this ministerial post).

The pre-election shadow Communities Secretary, Caroline Spelman has gone to DEFRA instead. I had hoped that that might possibly indicate a wish to distance the new government from the poorly-received policies in the Tory party’s planning ‘green paper’ published earlier this year, but apparently not. Even Tory supporters in the development industry thought those ideas were nonsense, and I still live in hope that some of the dafter ideas might be quietly dropped.

I had assumed that, as in the past, the Housing Minister (Grant Shapps) would also be responsible for Planning, but this will now be in the hands of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Bob Neill. Neill is another Tory. He is a barrister who before his ministerial appointment had a criminal practice at the bar. He has been MP for Bromley & Chislehurst since June 2006. In opposition he was a member of the Shadow Communities & Local Government team, becoming Shadow Local Government Minister in 2008 and holding the shadow planning brief. So he is now doing the job he shadowed for two years in opposition.

Prior to entering parliament, Neill served as a member of the GLC and was a councillor in Havering for 16 years, where he chaired the Environment and Social Services Committees. He was also a member of the London Assembly until he entered the Commons in 2006. He has thus had a good deal of relevant experience in local government, and presumably some contact with planning. On the down-side, he is inevitably associated with his party’s controversial planning proposals, which they now seem intent on trying to put into practice.


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