By Matthew Barrett
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There's a section of James Forsyth's Mail on Sunday column that's worth noting:
"George Osborne regards forcing through changes to the planning rules as one of his most significant Budget measures. They will now be published on Tuesday and, in the words of one Government source, will be "unashamedly pro-growth’" Downing Street knows the reforms will be controversial, but believes they are crucial to the economic recovery. But it seems the effects of these changes might not be anywhere near as dramatic as intended. Lawyers at the Department for Communities and Local Government have already told officials in other departments that they do not expect the new system to have that much impact."
Can you guess why the planning reforms won't be "anywhere near as dramatic as intended"? Europe! Forsyth continues:
"The problem is that Whitehall lawyers believe the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into English law could stymie the changes. They expect residents opposed to developments will attempt to use the Convention’s stipulation that people have a right to a "family life: to prevent building near them."
This is yet another area of Coalition policy where some Labour-implemented or invented layer of government pops up to interfere and stop growth. Whether it's quangos, domestic human rights lawyers, or some European resolution/convention/court/directive, there are very few policies the Coalition has been able to get on with and carry out without a strange, unaccountable, and often foreign body intervening.
There is a "but" in this case, however. I want to leave the European Union, and probably most associated bodies, but on the issue of the Government's "unashamedly pro-growth" (as opposed to guilty pro-growth, as John Rentoul pointed out) planning reforms, I hope Ministers are frustrated by Brussels lawyers. I am instinctively suspicious of governments wanting to take the easy way out, and that's what these planning reforms will do.
As Jill Kirby wrote earlier this week, if David Cameron wanted to provide sites for new business to set up, but also leave the countryside unspoiled, he would prioritise brownfield development, and the beautification of our existing towns and cities, especially given that we keep being told that our town high streets are dying, and we need to do something about it.
I fear the outcome of this Coalition policy will seem almost designed to annoy natural Tory supporters, alongside others like Lords reform, weak law and order, gay marriage and child benefit cuts. How will Tories – or, indeed, potential Tories – feel about stories like this one?
"Ministers want to use simplified planning powers to create a 100,000 home city in the Midlands countryside, according to the chief engineer for the high speed Birmingham to London rail link."
It might not be as easy as simply building new developments in the countryside, but brownfield sites don't alienate the grassroots, and help regenerate existing settlements. The Conservative part of the Government ought to mind its natural supporters, by not taking the easy way out of the country's planning mess, and giving the go-ahead to new developments springing up on the outskirts of towns. Unfortunately, it seems it's the Conservative part which is pushing most strongly for more urbanisation in Britain.