Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The new Planning Minister


Journalists in various media were quick to comment on the expected impact of the new planning minister, Nick Boles. He certainly seems to have ‘form’ so far as his views on the planning system are concerned, although it remains to be seen whether the shackles of office may in practice blunt the apparent thrust of the ideas he has expressed in the past.

Boles is a relative newcomer to parliament, but is nevertheless credited with having the ear of the PM, having been the first director of the right wing think tank ‘The Policy Exchange’, which apparently enjoys prime ministerial approval. Before entering parliament he had been a councillor on Westminster City Council, serving a single 4-year term from 1998 and 2002 where, between 1999 and 2001, he served as Chair of the Housing Committee.

Like other right-wing members of his party, Boles is opposed to a central government role in planning and housing. After his appointment, video clips were replayed repeatedly on television showing Boles addressing a Tory meeting in 2010 when he was heard to say, “I mean, bluntly, there comes a question in life. Do you believe planning works? That clever people sitting in a room can plan how people’s communities should develop, or do you believe it can’t work? I believe it can’t work, David Cameron believes it can’t, Nick Clegg believes it can’t. Chaotic therefore in our vocabulary is a good thing.”

As a minister, Boles may find that he has much less freedom of action and certainly much less opportunity to air his own views than he enjoyed as a back-bencher. Some journalists were inclined initially to see him as Cameron’s man at De-CLoG, but I have no doubt that the denizens of Eland House are already busy getting their new planning minister house-trained. He is, after all, working under a Secretary of State who is notoriously unenthusiastic about the Treasury-led dash for growth through development, and there is already a sense that the apparent momentum created by the initial headline-grabbing announcements from Downing Street a couple of weeks ago is slackening, as De-CLoG sets about consultation exercises on the proposed changes, with no guarantee that all of them will necessarily be put into practice.

Meanwhile, there is no sign yet of the promised Bill which is to speed up the planning system. Both houses of parliament are currently in recess, and neither house will sit again until October. Already the timetable that George Osborne was talking about at the beginning of this month is slipping, and details of the other measures that were announced are emerging only slowly and tentatively. Once again, it can be seen that no matter how sternly the PM frowns and how emphatically he enunciates his intentions, delivery simply doesn’t match the rhetoric.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

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