Beautiful homes on sunlit uplands? Not once the developers are in charge

Owl notes that in following its jobs led, high growth strategy to: build, build, build; EDDC has rolled over to developers for years. Cranbrook comes to mind. Owl fears that it’s going to get worse. As reported earlier, Barnstable is now the go to place for high tech start-ups. It’s more attractive.

Richard Vize 

Boris Johnson’s “smash the system” approach to public policy is about to reach every street, town, village and field in the country. The government is preparing to dynamite development controls and unleash market forces on our physical world, moving power from councils to developers and inflicting great harm on the built and natural environments.

While No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings and eugenics aficionado Andrew Sabisky grab the headlines, it is Jack Airey who may well have the more lasting impact on our lives. As Johnson’s new adviser on housing and planning, Airey is leading the charge to strip local councils of meaningful control over local development. Just last month, in his role as head of housing at influential right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange, he published his manifesto, Rethinking the planning system for the 21st century.

Airey is undoubtedly right that the planning system is not fit for modern times. Fertile land is being gobbled up for ugly, sprawling, car-dependent, amenity-free housing developments. Poorly planned building is exacerbating the menace of floods. Too few new buildings minimise their carbon footprint. Developers constantly dodge their obligations to build social housing. There are too few homes. Planning decisions can take too long and the rationale can be opaque. But junking democratic accountability and putting developers in charge is not the answer.

A white paper on planning reform is expected in the coming weeks. Johnson is clearly in the mood for bold, high-risk policies, and Policy Exchange is playing to that tune by proposing land is simply divided into development and non-development zones. “Market conditions” will then determine how development land will be used, with few controls. Councils will be reduced to mere administrators of the system, banned from taking a view on any scheme no matter how awful.

The green belts are in their sights, of course. They could be stripped of their protections.

Apparently this free-for-all will create “a more beautiful built environment”. The Policy Exchange report is full of this sort of seductive phrasing. The current restrictions “prevent dynamic places from growing naturally”, as if there is anything natural about a cheap, ugly development on what used to be a field. The choice we are offered is the current system – painted as dystopian state control reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s infamous Gosplan state planning committee – and the sunlit uplands where untrammelled market forces spontaneously enhance our environment and help us become carbon neutral.

It claims councils are saddled with too many policy objectives around development, often pulling in different directions. Of course there are conflicts, and it is the role of local and national politicians, accountable to voters, to do their best to resolve them. The outcomes will be inherently imperfect, but still superior to allowing the answers to be determined by those whose primary objective is to maximise profit.

As councils have repeatedly demonstrated, it is developers who hold back housebuilding, rather than planning. Figures released by the Local Government Association yesterday revealed that 2.6m units

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