How not to Package and Sell Planning Reforms

Planoraks Blog Interview with Kit Kat

How do you view the media’s reaction to the White Paper so far and (another bonus question!), what’s your answer to those who’ve painted the White Paper as a charter for the next generation of slums

I spent much of launch day shouting at the radio as commentator after commentator said ridiculous things about the proposals – I’m very sad to see the big ideas so mischaracterised, in many cases by people saying that the proposals are the exact opposite of what we’ve put forward; for example, one of the big themes of the critics has been that the proposals would remove the power of councils to decide what to build where, and deny local people the opportunity to object whereas in fact the proposals would give far more power to councillors and to local people and communities not only over what to build where but also to draw up “pattern books” of what development should look like, and what standards it should follow. The statement made that we would create the next generation of slums is crass and I was exceptionally disappointed at the source of the statement – in fact the proposals would create a charter for building places where we would be proud to live; of all the things that have been said by critics, the “slums of the future” comment is the most absurd. 

What do you say to the idea that England’s current planning system would work just fine if it was resourced properly? 

I would say “you cannot be serious! Are you joking?!”

The Government only has itself to blame for its botched and incompetent presentation and explanation of planning reform.

Firstly all good faith is gone. Its permitted development reforms allowed beds in coshed, beds in cupboards with no windows etc. Also the behaviors of the planning minister suggested planning permission is for sale and that ‘red tape’ was the problem. There was NO communications strategy suggesting we could follow international best practice in achieving world class quality carbon neutral communities.

As a result it was open game to the lazy journalism, or even commentary from professional institutions and even Pro Cliff Hague, that it was a ‘developers charter’ with planning permission for sale etc. Sorry Kit Kat – you asked for it.

What positive suggestions it had were explained in contradictory and complex ways. Plans forecast too much, so lets have a beefed up nationally determined standard method. SEA and HA are too complex, but lets stick to international obligations. The worst is its proposals on affordable housing, get rid of S106, hint vaguely that charges would be made AFTER deductions from in kind contributions of land for services and affordable housing (which is broadly the continental system made easier by zoning) but dont explain it so everyone assumes affordable housing is being abolished. Ofqual have a superior media strategy.

What is more by not mentioning social housing once, by punting back carbon neutral housing by 30 years and not mentioning any of the good stuff – like Garden Communities, once, because of repeating the failed strategy of letting local government making all of the big bad decisions (which they have totally failed to do with strategic allocations).

However even if they had got it right noone would have believed you. You cant spend 20 years knocking the very idea of planning and have people trust you that you now believe in it and want to do it better.

It had a go at all of the key reforms in the last round, DTC, presumption over 5YPP ‘build what you like where you like’ without grasping that the problem was the abolition of strategic planning in the first place.

Hence the essential message – that the UKs uniquely bad discretionary system – that only works for aging well off property owners objecting to things and not for the young, propertyless and disadvantaged, was lost.

We will have to wait for the next cabinet reshuffle and the unlikely prospect that someone not over promoted takes over, and that Cummings is not in charge of media strategy.