The Battle for Planning

The following brief article by John Gummer appeared in the town planners' magazine "Planning" on 23rd February, 2007, and is reproduced here with permission of the editor.

"The battle for proper planning has now begun. The government seems hell-bent on destroying the planning system and reducing it to an arm of the centralising state. This stems from a particular view of the world that goes deep into this government's psyche. It is hurt that so much of what it advocates has not been achieved. As a result it has intensified its centralising tendencies. The failure of the planning reforms to deliver faster decisions and the system's inability to provide enough homes has become an obsession with Gordon Brown, who may well use his term as premier to further attack the principles of planning.

"His advisor, Kate Barker, proposes to loosen out-of-town restrictions and put pressure on inspectors to say yes even when local communities have said no. Part and parcel of this approach is a planning gain supplement that makes provisions to nationalise receipts that, under Section 106 agreements, have previously gone to communities accepting developments. Even in the unlikely event that this does not result in an overall tax increase, up to 25% of the receipts will go to the chancellor. Thereafter, without further preliminary legislation, he can use the local government grant system to claw back the remaining 75%.

"Yet centralisers want more. The DCLG (Note: Department for Community and Local Government) and the Treasury are now plotting a national body to determine the direction of planning, decide when special planning permission is needed and introduce increasingly rigid rules. Planners will become mere ciphers for national policies while continuing to provide democratic cover for ministerial diktat. Thus are the battle lines drawn and, irrespective of politics, planners must respond."

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Roger Hockney
April 2007