The Westminster government is promising (in England) to get planning officers "off people's backs" with a relaxation of current rules. In true Spiv fashion ‘ for a limited period, people will be allowed to build larger extensions on houses (up to eight metres for detached homes and six for others). Shops and offices will also be able grow to the edges of their premises as Plan A (harsh Public Sector Cuts) fails and a note of desperation creeps in Westminster ministers seek to boost the economy.
On the surface it sounds good; it seems reasonable, save for the fact that somewhere amidst the smoke and mirrors is a plan to reduce developer’s obligations to build proportional amounts of affordable housing. Not that long ago, a matter of a few months, the Westminster government rewrote the entire planning framework (for England) despite some fierce resistance from countryside campaigners. Now Westminster ministers want further changes to planning rules (in England) in an attempt to boost house-building and revive the economy.
Meanwhile this side of the bridge a major change in planning rules in Wales aims to ‘tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors’. This decision may be aimed quite specifically at overturning those few occasions when our Local Authorities have rejected some developments (often at the behest of local residents) rather than putting economic needs ahead of economic and environmental benefits.
The Labour in Wales run Welsh government will formally announce this controversial move sometime next month. The problem lies not with the planning system, which is far too weak, and has proved itself to be more than capable of blatantly ignoring expressed local concerns, with few real consequences for the decision makers. Any meaningful supervision of the planning process by the Welsh Assembly Government has proved to be pretty minimal.
Quietly in Westminster we are moving towards having ‘a Government of Spivs, by Spivs and for Spivs’. The rules and regulations are blamed for the lack of economic growth rather than it being a direct consequence of the banking crash, the bankers recklessness and years of allowing the so called ‘free market’ to drive economic policy and economic planning. Oddly enough, overregulation and red tape did not cause the financial crash – the banks did.
Poor regulation, stupidity and greed and a desire by Government’s (of all political hues) to look the other way as long as things appeared (on the surface at least) to be working all contributed. Now here in Wales, our local authorities, certainly not the best guardian of the public interest and our environment have been bluntly told, by the Welsh Government, that they should recognise that ‘there will be occasions when the economic benefits will outweigh social and environmental considerations’.
Tell that to the residents of Torfaen, who have been fighting the plan and the good citizens of Abergavenny who have been fighting to retain the livestock market in the town. Or perhaps the concerned residents of Carmarthen who are worried about the impact of over large housing developments or the concerned residents of Holyhead who are opposed to new marina development. All these people (and all of us) have been ill-served by the planning system, by our local authorities and our own Government in Cardiff – why should we expect the Westminster Government to be any different...