For the first time in decades the government has made a commitment to giving local communities much more say in the development proposals that affect them. And as a former member of a local authority planning committee, I strongly welcome this change. Communities will soon be centre-stage in the planning system, because local people and representatives know their areas better than anyone. Development should rightly reflect the aspirations of local communities and not just the interests of a few.
When addressing a planning conference recently I learnt a new anagram – CAVEs. Citizens Against Virtually Everything. Or another word for nimbyism. Because that’s what the government’s planning reforms have unleashed. Instead of welcoming the streamlining of planning guidance, many organised interests are opposed to its change. And none as vocal as the countryside lobby.
Writing earlier this month, Professor Sir Peter Hall, whose lectures I sat through whilst at university in the 70s, praised the Prime Minister for “defying the extraordinary narrow lobby represented by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Trust, whose paying members have been mobilised as unwitting agents of nimbyism”.
However the power of this lobby is such that just a few weeks after this comment was published, David Cameron was obliged to write to reassure them about the benefits of change.
Just as my colleague Nick de Bois MP warned earlier this year about bowing to pressure and retreating on the reformative measures contained in the Health & Social Care Bill, I too warn about retreating on the localism agenda. Because after years of opposition involving discussion forums, policy papers and reviews the government must stick to its guns and not lose its nerve.
These planning reforms, I believe, represent a fundamental step change in community power and provide a better system for economic development, and the government should not be swayed off course by this highly articulate lobby, consisting as it does of just as many Conservative party supporters as those from other parties.
In the present economic climate the need for growth is paramount. A major component within the mechanism of achieving growth is the freeing-up of the planning system and steps to achieve this should not be prejudiced however articulate the voice. So the government must not be swayed off course by the plethora of organised interests who have thus far had too much of a stake in planning decisions. Of course all people must have their say on issues that affect them. But the right development is good for local communities, good for the country and crucial for the economic recovery.