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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Garden towns and villages"

Johnson and Jenrick may want to reform planning, but will millions of homeowners let them?

Westlake Legal Group johnson-and-jenrick-may-want-to-reform-planning-but-will-millions-of-homeowners-let-them Johnson and Jenrick may want to reform planning, but will millions of homeowners let them? Warwick Lightfoot Sue Chadwick Robert Jenrick MP Policy Exchange Planning Liam Halligan Infrastructure housing crisis housing Highlights Garden towns and villages E Bridget Rosewell Boris Johnson MP Book Reviews

Planning Anew: A collection of essays on reforming the planning system for the 21st century Westlake Legal Group Planning-Anew-212x300 Johnson and Jenrick may want to reform planning, but will millions of homeowners let them? Warwick Lightfoot Sue Chadwick Robert Jenrick MP Policy Exchange Planning Liam Halligan Infrastructure housing crisis housing Highlights Garden towns and villages E Bridget Rosewell Boris Johnson MP Book Reviews

Does Boris Johnson have the guts to tackle the rigged housing market? That was the question posed in January in the last review here of a book about housing.

We turn now to a pamphlet published by Policy Exchange which gives grounds for cautious optimism. It consists of essays by a dozen hands indicating various ways in which the planning system is utterly unfit for purpose.

Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, has welcomed this work and said: “It’s time to rethink planning from first principles.” According to Wednesday’s Financial Times,

“Ministers are preparing for a major overhaul of the planning system in England to speed up approvals for new developments as part of the government’s attempts to kick-start the economy hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.  Central to the proposals are the introduction of a zonal planning system and the creation of special development zones, in which private developers will play an expanded role.”

Jack Airey, who until recently was Head of Housing at Policy Exchange, is now Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Housing.

And in January, Airey wrote a piece for ConHome to mark the launch of an earlier Policy Exchange report, Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Centuryin which he observed:

“When renters pass over half their monthly income to their landlord, they should blame a planning system that protects existing property wealth at the expense of people who work hard and get on in life.”

We have for over 70 years rationed the use of land, which has in consequence become absurdly expensive. Attempts to stimulate the economy often have, as one of their chief consequences, the inflation of property prices, so that those who possess houses become, at least on paper, richer than they could ever have expected.

Warwick Lightfoot, Head of Economics at Policy Exchange, sketches in his essay how the state took control of land use:

“The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act was passed in a specific political, policy and cultural context. Just two years after the conclusion of the Second World War, the British economy continued to be subject to wartime controls.

“Food, petrol and clothes were rationed. The location of business and industry was determined by ministerial fiat. Whether a particular building was built or rebuilt turned on ministerial decisions about how brick production should be allocated.

“A vivid example of this is provided by the decision not to rebuild Holland House – a Jacobean mansion in west London, largely destroyed by enemy action in 1940. Its owners wanted to rebuild it, but were prevented from doing so by Herbert Morrison the minister in charge of the economy and supply.

“There was a broad consensus on nationalisation, planning and controls. The passage of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act was consonant with the zeitgeist of this epoch. It was a socialist piece of legislation.”

Most other wartime controls were abolished during the 1950s. Planning wasn’t, but at first, the two main parties competed with tremendous determination to build the most houses.

Harold Macmillan, charged in 1951 by Winston Churchill with fulfilling the Conservative election pledge to build 300,000 houses a year, attained that target and made his name – a story told some years ago on ConHome, which concluded:

“There are some lessons in this for the modern day. Macmillan showed that the ruthless application of political will, along with businessmen employed as fixers, could achieve a surprising amount. He had no qualms about arranging for the building of vast numbers of council houses: Labour was to some extent beaten with its own weapons. But markets were freed up too: the abolition of wartime rationing was the other clear success of this administration. It seemed natural to this generation of Conservatives when necessary to mobilise the resources of the state with wartime determination. Ministers demanded ‘Action This Day’. Modern government looks by contrast a very tentative exercise.”

Will Johnson and Jenrick prove as formidable as Churchill and Macmillan? Only if they achieve something like the same combination of “Action This Day” with market freedom.

The first essay in this collection is by Bridget Rosewell, an economist who is also a member of the National Infrastructure Commission.

She observes that planners at present “stop things more easily than they permit them”. They also make “utterly imperfect” predictions of housing need, which everyone else involved in the process then has to take seriously:

“The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), on which I sit, was asked to look at supporting the development of one of the most productive parts of the UK economy, involving Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes – hence CaMKOx. We concluded in a first analysis that the economy would require an additional one million homes over the long term…

“This is …roughly double the number defined in the ‘need’ assessment and hence enshrined in local plans…. Local residents may well resent an influx of new residents, even while they are providing opportunities for their children and indeed their grandchildren. Future generations have rights too, but imposition on current ones is seen as undemocratic. The NIC had to be careful in making its recommendations in order not to be seen as making specific locations a policy focus for fear of subverting the planning process and creating the potential for judicial review. Planning lawyers came along to lecture us on the subject!”

This is no way to get things done. The Infrastructure Commission proposes a proper railway between Oxford and Cambridge, and investment in roads, which in Rosewell’s account is

“all about creating a more effective labour market and housing options for all the people, from hospital porters to post doctoral students who are currently priced out of one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.”

In her view, “we must abolish the Plan as a shibboleth, a straitjacket and an industry.” This is evidently desirable. The present Government will not be able to transform infrastructure if ten or 20 years of planning are required before any actual building can take place.

Nor will it be able to bring the price of houses back within reach of people on modest incomes, who a generation or two ago could expect to become owners, and now face lifetimes of paying rents so exorbitant that saving to buy a place of one’s own is out of the question.

Whole professions have grown up whose purpose is to navigate a way through the planning system – a task which has become so slow, expensive and uncertain that small builders have given up, and housing is dominated by an oligopoly of huge firms which have a vested interest in keeping the price of building land at its present exorbitant level.

Several of the contributors to this pamphlet call for radical reform, without quite saying what that would be. For the presumption that if one owns a piece of land, one ought to be able to build whatever one wishes on it, has been replaced by the presumption that if someone else owns a piece of land, one ought to be able to stop any development on it which one believes one might not like.

All of us will have witnessed minor local planning rows in which hysterical objectors convince themselves that the end of the world is nigh.

Yet on those occasions when the project goes ahead, the world does not come to an end.

And all of us will also know of large, unspeakably shoddy buildings which have somehow won approval under the present system.

When planning permission is granted, the value of a piece of land increases enormously, and local authorities have various ways of taking part of that profit and using it to pay for the infrastructure which new houses will require.

The authors of these essays make proposals for simplifying that process.

Ebenezer Howard, who in 1902 published Garden Cities of Tomorrow, had a more radical suggestion. As Sue Chadwick points out in her essay about him at the end of this collection, he proposed that the land on which a new settlement is to be built should be bought at its agricultural value.

Howard’s proposal was incorporated into the 1947 Act. Landowners hated it, and as Liam Halligan relates in Home Truths, reviewed here in January, persuaded Conservative governments gradually to dismantle this provision, until under the 1961 Land Compensation Act, landowners gained the right to receive full value for all sites, including any prospective “planning gain”.

Since 1961, owners of potential building land have had had a vested interest in the maintenance of a planning system which creates an artificial scarcity.

They can sit tight and get rich by doing nothing. Private greed and public inefficiency are yoked in an unholy alliance.

And from a political point of view, this presents a colossal obstacle to reform. Millions of homeowners have a vested interest in upholding a planning system which artificially inflates the value of their houses, because it makes the land on which those houses sit so valuable.

Only when land prices come back down will houses once more become, in the jargon, “affordable”. But what party wants to go into an election telling homeowners that it intends to provoke a crash in property prices?

Nor would that crash be without wider consequences. Just as the measures taken to prop up the banks after the crash of 2007-08 also had the effect of keeping the property market at artificially high levels, so a property crash would probably carry the banks down with it too.

Such thoughts, which go some way beyond this admirably slim volume of essays, mean one should perhaps keep expectations of what Johnson and Jenrick will be able to achieve within bounds.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

David Davis: How to keep the new working class voters we won last Thursday – and win even more

David Davis is MP for Haltemprice and Howden, and is a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

The Conservative victory last Thursday was not just a landslide win: it marked the beginning of the transformation of our political landscape and our country.

The new MP for Blyth Valley, Ian Levy, won a mining constituency never previously held by the Conservatives . As a former NHS worker he is, like many of his new colleagues, anything but a toff, and signals a coming transformation in the complexion of the Party both in Parliament and the country.  A number of the new 109 MPs are Tory working class heroes.

The question on everybody’s mind, from the Prime Minister to the newest arrival, is: “now that we have won them can we hang on to them?”   If we are any good at our job, the answer to that question should be a resounding “yes”.  Many Labour MPs – not just the left-wing apologists for Jeremy Corbyn -are consoling themselves that these Labour constituencies will return to type at the next election.

But they should look at Scotland, where the SNP swept aside a previously dominant Labour Party riddled with complacency and corruption – and it still has not come back.   The same could happen in England and Wales if they are not careful.

It was clear on the doorstep during these last six weeks that the electoral base of the Conservative Party has changed dramatically. Our voters are more working class and more urban. They are more provincial and less metropolitan.  They have a no-nonsense common-sense, and are certainly not politically correct. They have a quiet unassuming patriotism – proud of their country but respectful of foreigners.  They are careful with money, and know it has to be earned.   They want tougher policing but also have a strong sense of justice.  They depend more on public services, and are the first to get hurt when these fail.  Many of them would be classified as “working poor” and dependent on welfare payments, although they themselves may not see it that way.

So what should we do in order more fully to win their trust? Obviously we should deliver on our manifesto: get Brexit done, and provide more money for the health service, for education, for the police, and for more infrastructure – not least new broadband.   But this is nowhere near enough.   A manifesto should be a lower limit on delivery, not an upper limit on aspiration.

This should be no surprise. The Thatcher manifesto of 1979 was fairly slim. It certainly did not detail the actions of most radical and eventually most successful government of the twentieth century.

What Thatcher achieved was a revolution in expectations: about our country, about ourselves, about what was possible.  We have to do the same.

And our target should be unlimited.   We should be planning to prove to our new base that we care about improving their lives, but we should also be targeting the votes of younger people, too.   There should be no no-go areas for the new Conservatives.   Fortunately, the necessary policies are similar, and they require Boris Johnson’s hallmark characteristic – boldness.

There should be a revolution in expectations in public service provision, from health care to education. This is about imagination more than money. There are massive technological opportunities opening up, from genetics to big data to diagnostic technology, and we should be enabling the NHS to make better use of it.

On the education front, the international comparisons have not shown much progress since the turn of the century, despite the best efforts of successive Education Secretaries,  Other countries from China to Belgium have seized on new technology to completely reengineer the classroom. We should be doing the same.

And we should now work to further social mobility.   None of my doorstep conversationalists mentioned this phrase, but many talked about the opportunities (or lack of) for themselves and their children, which is the same thing.   We used to be a world leader in social mobility; now we are at the back of the class.   Every government since Thatcher has paid lip service to the problem, but none has done anything about it.   Indeed, they have made it worse.

Take for example the disastrous university tuition fees and loans system introduced by Tony Blair and made worse by David Cameron.   It has delivered poor educational outcomes, high costs, enormous debt burdens and widespread disappointment, as well as distorting the national accounts.

The heaviest burden of this failure falls on young people from the poorest areas. The Augar Report gave strong hints about how to fix it, even though its terms of reference forbade it from providing an answer.   The new policy aim should be simple.  Allow children of all backgrounds a worthwhile education to get good enough qualifications to start a decent career without crushing lifetime loans. It should be an early priority of this government.  It would be the single most targeted way of helping a generation that deserves our support.

One of Thatcher’s great contributions to social mobility was to encourage home ownership: 65 per cent of young people either owned or were buying their own homes then.  Today, that number is 25 per cent.   The reason is simple.   We are just not building enough homes.  In the last 15 years the population has grown by just shy of seven million people.

We have built nowhere near enough houses to cope with that.   The current incremental strategy is not up to the job, and we need to adopt a wholesale programme of garden towns and villages around the country, and a new process to drive much of the planning gain to reducing house prices and improving housing and service quality.   We should also look very closely at reform of the Housing Association sector, to deliver more homes for both rent and sale.   We were once a proud homeowning democracy, and a return to that would not be a bad aim for a modern Conservative Party.

This would be just a start.   But it has to be paid for.   This has always been the Conservative Party’s trump card: the ability to run the economy and deliver the funding for good public services.   Brexit opens up the possibility of a new economic renaissance, which the Prime Minister believes in, and is capable of seizing with both hands.

But we will need to rediscover the Lawson lessons: that simpler, lower taxes deliver more growth, more jobs, more wealth, and eventually more tax revenue.   Our tax system is now littered with irrational anomalies – most recently demonstrated by senior doctors refusing to do extra work because they were effectively being taxed at 100 per cent as a result of covert Treasury pension taxes.

It is time we swept much of this structure away, and liberated people to gain from their own efforts without excessive state burdens.   It should also not be too hard for us to do it in a way that helps the North as well as the South.  And this does not just apply at the top: the working poor face similar anomalies under the tax credit system.

Which brings us back to the ‘new’ Conservative working classes.   We should not imagine that an appeal to them is a novel gambit bu the Conservative Party.* The most successful political organisation in the world for two centuries has been just that because for most of that time it has relied on the working class for at least half of its vote.

From Disraeli’s reforming government to Shaftesbury’s great social and industrial chang, to Lord Derby’s legalisation of trades unions, we have a long and deep commitment to caring about the welfare of the working classes.   If this were not true, one of Johnson’s old Etonian predecessors as Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, would never have won the impoverished North Eastern constituency of Stockton – and held it throughout the great depression.   And of course in modern times Margaret Thatcher inspired Essex man and held many seats in the North – not least Darlington, which we won back last week.

So we have been here before. Blue collar Conservatism has a proven track record – one we should resurrect.  In this new political battle, the greatest tension will not be left versus right or even fiscal and monetary doves versus economic hawks.   It will be a battle between creativity and convention.   I have always thought that the Prime Minister subscribes to Nelson’s maxi  that “Boldness is the safest course,” so I suspect that this will be a battle that he will relish.   If he does, these will not be the last seats we win in the Midlands Wales and the North.

A few years ago I presented a BBC Radio 4 programme which showed that the Conservative Party has been heavily dependent on working class votes for most of its 200 year lifespan.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com