what really matters is Osborne’s two-fold message.
First, that localism is failing a younger generation who can’t get on the housing ladder and, second, he’s had enough of our selfish ways.
We are the problem – not planners, banks, overseas investors buying off-plan or housebuilders hoarding land, but all of us who have somewhere decent to live and choose to deny that right to anyone less fortunate.
And it’s no longer just NIMBYs in their Gloucestershire villages who are stamping their green wellies in protest; it’s people in Havering and Hampstead as well who have taken advantage of localism’s improvisational nature to say “no”.
But this was not how it was supposed to be.
The Localism Act gave people power to decide about new development in their area with the proviso it would only be allowed if they voted for it.
While “neighbourhood plans” are not perfect – they are too complicated and have proved expensive to implement – they gave people a chance to say what they thought development should look like and where they wanted it.
To date, only 35 plans have been adopted (one in London) and they are almost all concerned with hyper-local issues, like parking and the design of traffic junctions, rather than the bigger picture.
Local plans have fared no better. More that half of all district councils lack an up-to-date local plan, not because they’re under-resourced and being bullied by housebuilders, as the TCPA would have us believe, but because a local plan would mean councils having to take their fair share of the total UK housing need, which they clearly don’t want to do.
Many of these councils are Conservative-led and what’s so exciting about Osborne’s proposals is that he’s taking on these recalcitrant Tory councils and telling that they’re out of time.
He’s also called time on his party which always has a tricky balancing act in the run-up to an election, with the last one no different.
In the first three months of this year Eric Pickles, then communities secretary, granted only 10% of called-in applications, blocking the development of 9,200 homes in Conservative-controlled areas. But in the three years prior to that he granted more than 70% of similar applications. Of course elections slow things down but such politically motivated decisions leave a bad taste in the mouth when people are desperate for somewhere to live.
And then there’s the time it all takes. Not just for planning but also to unlock sites in public ownership, which is another power Osborne has wrestled away because, left to their own devices, councils wouldn’t do it themselves.
Localism was a way around that, cutting red tape, transferring power to the local level and changing the way development took place. But it has failed. We were handed the reins, but it turns out we didn’t want them so Osborne has taken them back.