Following the reshuffle last week we experienced a rush
of policy announcements, some of which were supply-side
oriented and very welcome in the push for growth. I could ask the question, why
has it taken two-and-a-half years? But I won’t.
The most exciting and the most worrying of policies were
the responsibility of the new planning minister, often quoted as a personal friend
of George Osborne and David Cameron, the very nice Nick Boles
To all those who would like to build a conservatory or
extend a house over the next three years, go and fill yer’ boots. Nick
announced that from the New Year, thankfully, planning laws are to be relaxed
to enable this to happen.
This will move will facilitate trade for suppliers,
greater demand on the high street, and a resurgence in DIY which will in turn
lead to more jobs.
Home owners will be happy and it is a policy which is a
win win all the way.
However, not all is rosy. Nick is also hinting at
relaxing green belt planning legislation and I am afraid, if he wants to do
that, he is going to have the mother of all fights on his hands from
Conservatives across the land.
Speaking to a house owner this morning, I was taken
aback by his vehemence regarding Nick’s refusal on Newsnight earlier in the
week to confirm that the greenbelt was safe.
I have some sympathy for his concerns.
Most of us who have been Conservative MPs or councillors
for some time, have not spent our political lives opposing the relentless
attempts by the previous Labour
Government to build on green belt, to then say “oh, go on then, if you must”
just because the proposal has come from our own party.
Only 12% of the UK is green belt. It is a measly little
amount which has taken blood sweat and tears to defend over the years. We don’t
need to rob the next generation of its green lung in order to facilitate growth
during an economic decline.
It is not good enough to neglect areas desperately in
need of urban regeneration, and claim another acre of green belt to build on.
Once it’s gone, we can never get it back. As a party, we cannot be so shallow
as to jettison every argument we have deployed over the years against Labour,
in order to turbo charge growth in time for the next election.
There are enough redundant brown field sites to support
the building of 1.5million homes. Why don’t we start there? The centre of Luton
and Bedford are screaming out for re-development in my
own county of Bedfordshire.
There are other options.
Take Milton Keynes for example. A new town which began
life in 1967. A town with aspirations to become a city and which has never
stopped growing. There are areas within Milton Keynes which are now desperate
for re-build and re-generation. Let’s look at the number of empty homes across
the UK. According to the statistics for 2011, there are 720,000 empty homes.
Let’s reclaim those first before we upset Conservative voters, councillors,
MPs, association members, action groups and major organisations such as the
National Trust. It really isn’t clever to upset people and call them ‘latter
day luddites’, just because they want to hold onto what little is left of our
green and pleasant land.
Let’s relax the planning laws on retail premises and
allow them to be converted to residential without planning and the same with
the thousands, if not millions of empty offices across the UK.
Nick Boles has a safe seat and a great future. Let’s
hope he doesn’t spoil it by attacking the 12% holy grail at the heart of those
who support and fight for our party. They will never forgive him if he does.