Last edited 04 Feb 2021

First week of term

In the first of a series of blogs looking at the politics behind the built environment, Rebekah Paczek from snapdragon consulting takes a wry look at Eric Pickles' activities in the run up to the Autumn Statement.

Rebekah Paczek.jpg

We are told there will be a review of the NPPF in the Autumn Statement, but in the meantime Eric Pickles has decided to push a few things out:

  • The new planning guidance website was launched in August, at huge cost, but unfortunately it didn't work very well and even switching it off and switching it back on again didn't do the trick. However, it is now up and running and it is clear that, despite the efforts of the government to cut down planning policy and guidance, there is a lot of information which simply can't be abolished. As a result, the website still has pages and pages of guidance notes.
  • A call for more town centre parking spaces. Which is all well and good until people complain about the traffic in their town centres – you can't have one without the other.
  • Pickles has clearly decided to be more interventionist and has called in both Smithfield Market and the Shell Centre redevelopment at the same time as signalling approval for the Ram Brewery redevelopment in Wandsworth and approving a housing development in Cheshire, despite it contravening the emerging Neighbourhood Plan.
  • The battle to make local government become more localist and transparent, but only by doing what central government wants, has continued. This time Pickles is directing his ire at Tower Hamlets for a lack of transparency and the refusal to allow meetings to be filmed. Pickles apparently believes that "without the sunlight of transparency, the flowering of localism will whither" - in which case we can only assume he is shortly to publish all minutes and discussions with civil servants and other bodies relating to planning, development and local communities.
  • Pickles has gone on the attack, lambasting councils for pleading poverty when they are "hoarding billions in their piggy banks”.
  • Even more new guidance has been issued which is intended to streamline planning. This includes; the proposed removal of the need for conservation area consent for the demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas, and speeding up the appeals process to allow development to start more quickly.

Not to be outdone by all this action, the Lib Dems are looking at how to improve town centres, whether to expand Use Class Orders, how to encourage communities to engage with Neighbourhood Planning, how to deal with waste and minerals planning in two tier authorities, how planning can play a role in delivering economic growth and whether or not PINS should be abolished. It's not clear if this is in favour of everything then being done centrally or everything then being done locally – probably the latter. It's being led by Annette Brooke, the MP for Mid-Dorset and Poole who has a whole section on her own website about protecting the green belt. So a full, open and not at all pre-conceived consultation process then… The contents of the consultation can be found here. The deadline is 30th September.

All in all, the term has started off with quite a busy approach and the government are likely to want to maintain the momentum, particularly in terms of policies and initiatives which are seen to boost the economy. Expect more proclamations of ‘we were right all along’ when housing figures improve and mortgage lending increases in the run up to the Autumn Statement.


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