Monday, 11 May 2015
Goodbye, Uncle Eric!
The government has announced that Greg Clark [WHO???] has been appointed Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government in place of Eric Pickles. At the time of writing, I am not aware as to what role, if any, Eric Pickles may play in the government in the future. This may emerge in the course of the next few days. Maybe he will be put out to grass, although elevation to the House of Lords might not be an option if the PM wants to avoid a by-election in an Essex constituency where UKIP could no doubt be expected to mount a strong challenge.
Pickles has been possibly the longest serving head of this department and, in his rather plodding way, he has faithfully stuck to his brief, starting after the last election with the Localism Bill, which sought to put into effect the half-baked ideas that the Tories had dreamt up in opposition as a sop to the NIMBYs. However, the Wicked Uncle who resided (and still resides) at 11, Downing Street strangled the infant at birth, and Uncle Eric was then obliged to publish the National Planning Policy Framework, for which he clearly had no real enthusiasm, but he did what he was told, and it was eventually published in March 2012, encouraging much more development than the NIMBYs would have liked, or had been led to expect when the coalition government first took office.
Responding again to the diktats of the Treasury, Uncle Eric’s department then set about the further liberalisation of the planning regime, by amending the GPDO in three tranches (in May 2013, April 2014 and April 2015) to allow residential conversions of a variety of commercial premises and of farm buildings, as well as other changes of use that would otherwise have required planning permission. This met with strenuous opposition from some local planning authorities, but was forced through anyway, and has been backed up by some robust appeal decisions, which have swept aside objections to these developments. Recent amendment of the Use Classes Order has further liberalised the uses to which commercial premises can be put in future.
I will take a look at the new De-CLoG ministerial team in a future post. As I indicated before the election, the pace of change in planning law and practice may slow down somewhat now, especially since the government’s primary focus for the time being will be on other areas. However, there are some controversial infrastructure projects in the pipeline, including HS2 and the demand for additional airport capacity in the South-east (either at Heathrow or at Gatwick). There will no doubt be some unhappiness on the Tory back-benches if the government continues to push ahead with these schemes.
© MARTIN H GOODALL