The Spectator

Leading article: A failure of planning

David Cameron has been struggling to get across what he means by his Big Society project, but he has nonetheless succeeded spectacularly in motivating previously apathetic and distant neighbours to get together and give up their time for a common purpose. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, that purpose is to stop his planning policy.

True, the National Trust — which launched a campaign against the government’s planning reforms last week — often comes across as a lavender-scented enemy of progress. But there is little question that its views reflect those of millions of people who ought to be this government’s natural supporters. However great the need for more housing and new business premises, it is political suicide for ministers to declare war on what they regard as nimbyism.
The problem can be summed up with a single phrase from the proposals: ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. Forget the ‘sustainable’ bit — a piece of New Labour-speak so vague as to mean nothing — to most people it means only one thing: that developers will find it easier in future to drive through unpopular projects. Any doubts about this will be quickly dispelled by a follow-up phrase: ‘The government’s clear expectation is that we move to a system where the default answer to development is “yes”.’

The planning minister, Greg Clark, claims that the reforms are about localism, and indeed, he can point to new powers giving areas the right to instigate their own ‘neighbourhood plans’, and a new requirement on large developers to consult with local people before submitting big applications. But the reforms raise the spectre of the volume housebuilders and the supermarket chains wearing down opposition through attrition. Developers with deep pockets can only be expected to exploit the policy by putting in dozens of planning applications, knowing that protesters will have to exhaust themselves proving why each and every one would be inappropriate.

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