Sometimes it is what you don’t say that counts. And by that measure, Eric Pickles mounted a silent climbdown over his controversial proposals to rip up the bloated planning rulebook. He made no mention whatsoever of the economic benefits of the changes.
That is quite an omission, given that the justification for the changes, stated with menacing clarity by Pickles and Chancellor George Osborne, is to boost the economy.
The problem, of course, is the uproar in the shires the plans have prompted. Instead, Pickles, stretching his folksy charisma to the limit, referred to the opposition to the plans only obliquely: “Me and Mrs Pickles are partial to the odd scone and a warm beverage in a National Trust tea room”.
He attacked the planning regime left by Labour as the “preserve of inspectors, pressure groups and lawyers”, then simply asserted that the objectors were wrong. “It’s not a choice between countryside or concrete. Our countryside is one of the best things that makes Britain great, and we will protect it,” he thundered. His parting shot on planning was a long attack on the special treatment the planning system gave to travellers, with their camps “being dumped on the green belt and open countryside.”
Pickles dodged skilfully dodged the planning bullet and about a third of the hall rose to their feet to applaud at the end, though they were probably more stirred by the real theme of his speech: Labour’s government waste and intrusion via bin inspectors, garden spies and even sex snoops.
But the rhetorical step back from the planning fight was unmistakeable and follows emollient moves from planning minister Greg Clark. Very quietly, the government is softening on planning.