There needs to be a sea change in both legislation and public opinion if we’re to ‘Get Britain Building’ again, says David Snell.
Planning — it’s a mess. The big main acts are decades old and, over the last three Governments, there have been various new ones which have merely served as bolt-ons to the existing legislation.
But the real trouble with the planning system is that the ethos of anti-development lobby is so inculcated, that those working with and within it, in the face of any attempted relaxation, simply don’t know how to interpret the signals. On the one hand we have a Government striving to unlock the barriers to development.
On the other, the public wears its antipathy like a cloak of religion. Witness the committee member on TV series The Planners who looked the camera in the eye and stated: “It’s my job to say no.” Said without fear of castigation, she was confident that she had a constituency behind her.
We need a planning system for today’s world and that can’t happen unless there’s a change in the perception of development. A system that will facilitate economic recovery and not be afraid to tread on a few ‘not in my back yard’ (NIMBY) toes is required. It must be fresh but it can take its lead from the time before planning laws when the Victorians transformed Britain. If we’re ever to get out of this economic mess, decisions must be growth-centric. Nothing will change unless public opinion changes too. The myth of the countryside being ‘concreted over’ has to be exposed. People have to be educated that the development of land doesn’t mean it’s forever lost, only that it has changed.
The value of developed land not only exists in economic terms but environmentally too. There is little conflict between wildlife and sympathetic and sustainable development. Developing lower grade agricultural or fallow land is no loss. Fauna and flora of all sorts flourish in gardens whilst some fields are wildlife deserts, lacking shelter and food.
Consider poor old Prince Charles. One minute he’s being ridiculed for his green beliefs and love of the countryside; the next, he’s vilified for daring to build desperately needed homes on marginal farmland.
The beauty of the countryside shouldn’t be reserved for the privileged few. Furthermore, the people who inhabit, work in and maintain the countryside are as much a part of it as any tree, hedge or animal and they have a right to a home.
We have to stop apologising for wanting to house ourselves. It’s time we recognised the need to provide proper and sustainable housing for our growing population.
We need to throw the planning system over and come up with a completely new framework. We need to combine planning and Building Regulations to streamline the process — it has pertained in Ireland and it can work here.
Only bold moves will get the country back on its feet and welcoming development.