What might we expect from Osbourne’s ‘Extra Gear’ Productivity Plan For Planning

At his CBI speech in May the 20th George Obsourne announced his ‘Productivity Plan’ for Planning

He promised a “productivity plan” in the run-up to the Budget in July.

Departments are also being asked to find savings as soon as possible.

In his first major speech since his return to the Treasury, Mr Osborne told the CBI annual dinner that boosting productivity was vital to sustaining rises in living standards.

Steps to upgrade transport links, reduce red tape, streamline planning and incentivise business ownership would be at the centre of a plan to “make Britain work better” and rebalance the economy, he said.

Yesterday in Sunday Times Article and in of all places Facebook it was revealed the productivity plan would be produced Budget week and include a new round of planning reforms to accelerate planning reform and to simplify plan making – including sanctions to ensure plans get made where they have been slow.

We dont know the details however:

  • We know Osborne is like a dog with a bone with planning reforms and will keep coming back for more even when fought off or when the last round of reform was counterproductive.  Greg Clarke is a new SoS and less able to resist than Pickles.
  • This is in part a cover for cuts of 30% plus in the DLG budget.  Therefore some reform is necessary for a planning system to cope with far fewer planning and inspectors.
  • The return post election of the Bone type language of only 10% being urbanised (10% of what not England – only if you include Scotland and Wales and land between high and low water mark – and exclude all parks within urban boundaries – do you get 10%) suggests a big push towards further land release.  The rhetoric on Brownfield promotion is just political cover for a big Greenfield push – they know the figures being talked about are just two years supply and many brownfield sites are extremely difficult which will take a decade or more to get off the ground.
  • With fewer planners you need much less of a discretionary system and much more PD and much more of a zoning and subdivision type system as we have in other countries.  This is a serious point, compare per capita the number of planner in France say and the rate of development.  This may mean a shift towards the long speculated ‘establishing the principle of development once’ type system where zoning grants outline consent.  This will have been put into Greg Clarkes briefing post election as DCLG have long talked about it
  • It is likely to mean much shorter plans – little more than zoning documents – with a peremptory approval process, drawn up in default by the SoS in a special measures like regime where they are late.  I doubty this would be handed to PINS – they cant be judge and Jury – rather a NP type panel of consultants reporting to the SoS is more likley.  Of course this wont necessarily be quicker if the SoS dodges difficult decisions and it all gets bogged down in the courts as a result.  When I see Greg Clarke Allocating a 20 pitch site for travellers in bentwood Local Plan I will believe it.
  • Shortcuts to permissions like Housing Zones Granting permissions (through LDOs) are already in the works.  These rather fail to grasp the point that before a developer can start work you need a masterplan approved, the land assessmbled and infrastructure laid.  An outline permission without these are as uselful as a hole in the head – indeed it is likely to make land Assembly and infrastructure provision much harder to achieve as it will inflate land values.  We can expect a few years of niave experimentation and yet more thrashing around between further rounds of reform and backtracking before this one is settled.
  • What is really holding up plans though is disagreements over numbers, both Objectively Assessed Need and where it goes under the duty to Cooperate.  This is where planning is least productive with 10s of 1000s of manhours spend arguing around every issue and to little effect.  There is no sign however of government wishing to tackle the strategic issues of how housing numbers are set and allocated.  Again when I see Greg Clarke approving a local plan with a GArden CIty of 250,000 London Overspil (MK Scale) then I will believe the government is serious on this point.

2 thoughts on “What might we expect from Osbourne’s ‘Extra Gear’ Productivity Plan For Planning

  1. At a staff meeting I heard that local councils may now be allowed to build Intermediate and market housing – thus subsidising the build of social housing.

    Seems encouraging in meeting the needs of those who need it most and also in allowing councils to make a higher proportion of their housing target affordable.

    I should point out that I was daydreaming at the time and might have misheard the point made!

  2. Pingback: A Shift to a Zoning and Subdivision System for Brownfield is the big News in Productivity Plan | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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