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LIVE 24-SEVEN DIGBY LORD JONES


THE COUNTRY URGENTLY NEEDS A REFORMED PLANNING SYSTEM


Whilst clearing out my files, I came across this piece that I wrote just over 12 years ago – yes that long ago – yet it is entirely relevant today. It goes…


What I want to know is this: if the great crested newt is so rare in this country, why is it supposedly on every building site in Britain?!


As I toured the UK every week over the past six and a half years as Director General of the CBI, listening to the problems of businesses, the planning regime was always up there at the top of the pile as an issue inhibiting productivity improvement, adding to costs, preventing expansion, reducing competitiveness…in short, messing up the process of making profit from which people are employed and taxes are collected to pay for schools and hospitals.


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The planning system is slow, opaque, expensive, inconsistent and designed for another type of country (post-war Britain) competing in another sort of world (1947) and every Thomas, Richard and Henry gets to put in his two penn‘orth. The environmentalists, protecting everything from yellow-backed toads to the aforementioned great crested newt, all have more advocates than the unemployed, the risk-takers and the workers put together. The fire officers, the building inspectors, the heritage junkies and – whisper who dares – the thought police from the Health & Safety Executive all arrived from Head Office and all are here to help…NOT! Many will say this unfair or not true, but there is no escaping the deep-rooted view of virtually every businessman and woman in the country that this how it is on the ground.


Now – dear reader – you’re probably wondering what this has got to do with putting roofs over the heads of people…and people who can’t afford a roof at that. Why is a rant by a former promoter of businesses’ vested interests of relevance to Shelter?


Because Business and Shelter both need more houses built in Britain and we need them now, that’s why. House price inflation is a function above all else of the simple law of supply and demand. A quarter percent here or there on interest rates may cause some


pausing for breath in certain quarters (and ‘home values slashed’ headlines always mean, of course, that the Englishman’s castle is just not increasing in value by quite as much this quarter… but increasing it still is), but the only lasting way to achieve the immense benefit to society of the lower paid (in relative terms at least) being able to afford a home of their own in certain parts of the country is to increase supply and satisfy demand. Not rocket science, not grandiose macro-economic theory, just the application of the market test, which is always there at the last, the simple one of supply and demand.


It has to be in the best interests of a socially-inclusive wealth- creating society for postal workers, teachers, fire fighters and nurses to be able to afford to own a home in south-east England. People who start work in a postal sorting office in London at five am in the morning having commuted from Bedford are not going to be as productive, as fulfilled and as unstressed as if they had arrived at work after, say, a twenty-minute journey. More homes – and quickly! In the cities of regenerating Britain, so much excellent development has taken place, but now families are being denied houses because, in planning departments, flats are all the rage. And, so often, the planned development of houses is delayed while everyone waits for a detailed


analysis of the threat of the project to the – yes, you’ve guessed it – great crested newt!


So what is to be done? First, we need national politicians who act as statesmen and women in pursuit of a successful Britain, not temporary party-political advantage and reform, radically and quickly, the planning system.


Second, we need local politicians who put people first – and not those people who already have, but those people who have not. ‘Building more and better homes’ is not, repeat not, the same as ‘covering Britain in concrete’. Put the pressure on the builders to deliver really good quality, economically maintainable,


LIVE24-SEVEN.COM


BUSINE SS LORD DIGBY JONE S


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