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Congratulations to Nick Boles who has become the new Planning Minister at the DCLG. Congratulations also to Greg Clark who leaves the post to be promoted to The Treasury.

Mr Clark boosted localism and streamlined the planning system by reducing the number of pages of guidance from 1,400 to 52.  The boost this will bring to development is still to be seen. So does Mr Boles have anything left to do?

The Daily Mail suggests he is keen to go further by quoting his speech to the Tory Reform Group in January where Mr Boles says:

Business investment is also deterred by the bureaucratic rigidity of our outdated planning regime. So it is essential that we press on with our planning reforms and do not allow the hysterical scare-mongering of latterday Luddites like Simon Jenkins to strangle developments that will boost living standards.

All Mr Boles was actually doing was calling on the Government to "press on" with reforms they did "press on" with – despite a shocking degree of disinformation.


Yet I think there is a case for further reform. There should be flexibility to allow some building of (attractive) houses on (scuzzy) bits of Green Belt land. It could be limited to allowing development on, say, 1% of the Green Belt land. The worst 1% of those four million acres which are not by any means all green and pleasant, but often brown and ugly, derelict and damaged. With ten homes to an acre, allowing gardens, releasing 40,000 acres would mean 400,000 houses. That should at least be considered.

Over to you, Mr Boles.

The new Minister will have lots of boring briefing papers on planning law. He might find rather more enjoyable, Harry Mount's new book How England Made the English.  One point made by Mr Mount is how planning policy has become a force for ugliness rather than beauty.

He says:

"The days of instinctive, improvised development, free from planning control – which produced the haphazard collection of English garden squares that Pevsner admired so much – are gone.

"Towns and cities are now developed by dirigisted, centralised diktat, declaring what can and can't be built. Gone is the instinctive, untrammelled spirit that produced the typical English look: a hodgepodge of periods, and architectural features, sprouting up independently of each other, but working together in serendipitous harmony.

"Ironically, it is modern nimbyist planning restrictions that have dumped those blockish, right-angled towers of steel and concrete on England's cities, and sprinkled faceless brick boxes around the edge of its villages."

It should not be a choice between new homes or beauty. We should be able to have both.

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