Will Gove Reign Back or Push Forward Planning Reform?

Timing is everything. The reshuffle was timed to be on the day after departments submitted there final comprehensive spending review bids. Changes were apparently planned months in advance. So it was curious that Jenrick planned to issue the planning bill (we don’t know if it was planned in draft form or not) the week after he was due to be sacked when an incoming SoS would be in position to read into his brief and prepare for media scrutiny on what was likely to be the most complex bill in this parliament.

So the timing should not automatically be assumed as a reigning back on reform – the timing made a pause inevitable.

So was Gove brought in to reign back or press forward?

Jenrick and Pincher had already announced a more pragmatic approach to reform, here here, exactly what we proposed on here many times. Of course the tableau rasa tear everything down approach was pressed by Jack Airey at Number 10. So was this a defeat for him or was this a rare case of a Policy Exchange alumni listening to experts and reading the evidence – that would be a thing.

What was interesting was the Daily Mail briefing a couple of weeks ago which suggested the government was no longer so concerned on the 300,000 homes ‘aspiration’ and that the government was reigning back on reforms – giving the impression the rebels had won, whilst reading through the details (little that was breifed) suggested that zoning for ‘growth’ zones would remain – which was disastrous press and party management, it was deceptive, would give rebels incentive to rebel, rather than incentivising then to accept reasonable reform, and gave the impression that if increase in housebuilding was no longer important MPs could freely be Nimbys. As we know only a small minority of the 95 odd members of the Whats App group on planning concern are out and out opponents of any form of increase in housebuilding – we might call them the Nimby Spartans, I estimate less than 20 from their public prenouncements. I plan to name and shame them shortly. Remember with EVAL a rebellion would have to be over 93 or so to succeed, with govys political skills and a 3 line whip threatening withdrawal of whip inconceivable. Just look at the recent vote on raising taxes. The real threat is not the Spartan Nimbys, a paper army, but legislation getting locked down in the lord’s for a year, as with the Environment Bill.

Serious reform and an increase in housebuilding can only move forward if the Nimby Spartans and taken on and SEEN to be defeated, paring off the rest of the concerned MPs through well crafted pragmatic reforms that undoubtedly introduce international best practice on urban planning, rather than the hacked, overly discretionary system and mindlessly complex we have which empowers only those wanting to throw spanners to jam the process of housebuilding.

There are two theories in the press.

Firstly Gove was brought in to press forward, number 10, being alarmed at Jenrick being overly accommodative to the Nimby Spartans. Evidence of this was former Policy Exchange tanker Neil O’Brien as a PPS. Gove having a reputation on pushing forward complex reforms – though slowly – look at the Environment Bill.

The other theory is that this is the nail in the coffin for reform.

Jenrick speaking to the Telegraph

Mr Jenrick states that Mr Johnson “cares passionately about housing, more than any Prime Minister I’ve known”, quoting the Conservative leader’s remarks last year the Government needs to “take big, bold steps so that we can finally build the homes we all need and the future we all want to see.” Mr Jenrick states: “That can be done in different ways, but I know he and my successor won’t want that to slip through our fingers. Young people and families deserve nothing less.” 

The Telegraph piece had a nugget:

Following concerns about residents being unable to object to planning applications under the Government’s proposed new system, plans agreed over summer would also have allowed local residents to continue to submit comments after a scheme had been agreed “in principle”. 

Once you have permission in principle, as of right, however you call it you have permission. You cant be a little bit pregnant or have a little bit of a planning approval. Of course you can always submit comments, but you cant change the legal position. If you can and the LPAc an still unpermission, to coin a phrase you are going backwards, there is no as of right allocating sites becomes a promise that can and will be broken. Local Plans, as now, will not be worth the paper they are written on. The democratic will of those making plans will be discarded by a minority of councilors unconcerned by the discipline of the costs system because they stood on Advocado Nimby platforms and will actually be pleased in their planning departments collapse – chaos is good for those who want to block and stall the entire development system.

Or it simply means you can comment but only the matters to be decided in detail, reserved matters, technical matters, parameters etc. (we must simplify the law and language here the law is a mess and a have suggested simple reforms to permission in principle/outline to reflect modern masterplanning practice). So this is the test for Govy, if he introduces unpermissioning he will see outrage from the entire planning and development community, if however he introduces a statutory right to be heard, on matters relevant to the permission on hand, and not going back on previous statutory decisions – a ratchet principle (always moving forward and not backwards), rather than the greasy pole of unpermissioning, he will be their hero.

All that is needed a clause stating ‘Following agreement of a planning scheme the public still have a right under section X to submit representations and the planning authority shall have regard to them in considering applications for scheme parameter details’.

No clue on which way he will go. Govy is not known for being button up on private press briefings. So only one explanation; he has not made up his mind.

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