By Paul Goodman
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Max Hastings is a former working colleague of Simon Jenkins – the two wrote a gripping book together on the Falklands War – and a former President of the Campaign to Preserve Rural England. So it is scarcely surprising that he sees eye to eye with his old friend about the desire of Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, to build more homes outside cities and suburbs as well as within them. In today's Mail, he describes Boles as "clever, plausible and charming" , but this turns out to be only the feint before the knife is plunged deep between the Planning Minister's ribs. For Boles is also "willing to say, or do, almost anything to advance himself", not to mention crushing "local opinion and expertise" beneath his "jackboots".
I don't know exactly where the Planning Minister is planting his jackboots this morning, but I have spoken to sources close to the Department. They can't comment on the individual cases raised, but point out that a crucial question will be whether the councils concerned have the five year land supply to meet their housing need – which councils are require to have under the National Planning Policy Framework which together with its presumption in favour of sustainable development the National Trust, of which Jenkins is Chairman, apparently supported, along with the CPRE (claims my source, who also disputes Hastings's figures on the amount of land built on in any way).
But regardless of the cases Hastings raises, it should be remembered that Boles's main new housing scheme does not, repeat not, force new homes on unwilling local communities. Rather, it seeks to offer neighbourhood groups a slice of the Community
Infrastructure Levy in return for approving development plans. I'm a bit dubious about whether the Treasury will (or can afford to) put enough money into the plan to make it work, but the image of Boles goose-stepping across England's green and pleasant land is just a little exaggerated. The Planning Minister is trying to ensure that younger people get the homes that older people, such as Hastings and Sir Simon, already enjoy, and all power to his elbow, not to mention boots.