The Government has published a White Paper 'Planning for the Future’ (genuine consultations used to be Green Papers?) at the link https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future. Responses have to be made by 29 October 2020.
The proposals follow closely the thoughts of Jack Airey who has moved from Policy Exchange to No10 to help Dominic Cummings to disrupt and change the land use planning system as it was devised in 1947 and tweaked several times over the last 70 years. A similar move of personnel (Alex Morton) from Policy Exchange took place about 20 years ago with no lasting impact on the planning system other than ill thought out proposals burning up resources preventing it from functioning efficiently, thus exposing it to accusations of failure and in 'need' of further ill thought out change.
Between now and October there will be further Blogs on what impact the proposed changes are likely to have on the urban and rural environments, the climate, homelessness and biodiversity. However, there are some basic points that suggest that the proposals are unlikely to further the causes of social justice, or enable a green recovery.
We live in a richly textured and complex country the settlement of which has taken place over thousands of years. It is simplistic to think that lines can be drawn on a map carving the country up into three categories (effectively green, red and amber) that could accurately reflect the real needs either of these different areas or the country as a whole.
If the Government had the first inkling of systems theory it would know that the principle of ‘requisite variety’ says “that in order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face.” The current planning system is complex but no more so than the range of problems it is expected to manage. Reducing town and/or country into zones would lose the principle of dealing with individual cases on their merits. The Paper says that the zoning would be subject to public involvement but with only three options and no experience of zoning it will not be possible for lay people or experts to make informed choices on where to draw the lines.
Another reason why the proposals are misguided can be seen in the expectations of what a changed planning system could achieve. Neither Policy Exchange nor No 10 appear to understand that being the fourth most unequal country in the world makes it very difficult to level-up as per the election promises by handing the job over to the urban development industry. Zonal planning would be an energy sapping distraction from what the planning system should be enabled to achieve in terms of housing, transport, climate and ecology.
It does not help that the Government has the unshakeable belief that 300,000 new houses have to be built every year to meet housing needs instead of a composing a strategy to re-distribute the existing surplus of housing space (ie 28million often under-occupied dwellings for 27m households). 1 million new dwellings in the next 5 years is a lot of construction carbon and the MHCLG has been asked where reference to this issue might be found in the consultation paper.
And, finally, the planning system could and should be revitalized, starting with the omission from the 1948 Act, which is control over agriculture and forestry.