Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Planning to cut growth

The government has introduced a Growth and Infrastructure Bill. The best that can be said is that the title suggests that the government has at last recognized that economic growth and infrastructure renewal are crucially important. The bad news is that the Bill is a rag-bag of measures which have not been thought through.

Construction activity has declined again in both the private and public sectors. 400,000 homes could be built on sites which already have planning permission. 87% of planning applications are approved.

Last year, the government produced a review of the national planning policy framework. The all-party Select Committee, which I chair, took evidence from a wide range of organizations concerned with planning, development and housing. We were unanimous in our report, which was quite critical of many of the government’s key proposals. To give the government credit, it accepted most of the recommendations we made.

Yet, just a few months after that major overhaul, we are back discussing fundamental changes in the planning system. This is despite the fact that our investigation could find absolutely no evidence to support the view that the planning system was hindering appropriate development or house-building. When we asked Ministers, they have been unable to provide a single piece of evidence to suggest planning is the problem.
So, why are we back discussing these measures? Over the summer, we could almost see the wringing of hands at No. 10 and No. 11 because the economy would not move. They were worried about why there was no growth, not sure what to do about it and looking for others to blame. We could almost hear the call to the Secretary of State: “Find me some initiatives. Anything will do, so long as we look as though we’re doing something.” So we end up with a rag-bag of measures which have not been thought through. Government Ministers at the Department, given the job of trying to justify them have signally failed.

But just because they’re a rag-bag, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. For instance, the first clause of the bill effectively removes from any applicant the right to appeal to an independent body against a decision of their local planning committee. Having previously asserted their determination to remove all targets and central assessments, the government is to introduce new targets – but we don’t know what they are – and a central assessment process, except that the government can’t tell us what the criteria might be. Taken together, the proposals go completely against localism and introduce centralism to the planning system. 

What we do know is that the new uncertainties which the government has introduced will cut and delay development activity even more.
You can read the debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill at Column 596 at

You can watch what I said in the debate at: