Taken from the Dec 2011 edition of Housebuilder magazine.
Stephen Byfield, managing director of communications consultancy PPS Group, sends festive greetings to the communities secretary – but wishes he was acting quicker on planning reform
I have had this great idea for a DCLG Christmas card. It features Eric Pickles dressed as Santa Claus, cooking chestnuts on an open brazier, fuelled by the much vaunted thousand pages of now redundant national planning policies.
I get the feeling he would quite like the image, showing him as a tireless crusader against red tape, hacking and slashing his way towards a more responsive planning system. But as we come to the end of 2011, I wonder how this record actually stands up.
Everything does seem to be taking an age to come into effect. By the time you read this, the Localism Bill should have passed into law. But it took a year to wade its way through the Parliamentary process and of course a raft of secondary legislation containing much needed detail is still to be passed before a great deal will change on the ground.
No one can claim that Mr Pickles can’t act quickly when he wants to. He was extremely speedy to abolish the Regional Spatial Strategies back in 2010. Too speedy, many thought. By removing this central plank of central planning, he removed the ability of many housebuilders to bring forward schemes they had been promoting for years.
But while it was possible to dismantle parts of the old system with speed, replacing it seems to be a far slower process. The draft proposals in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) took the Government well over a year to publish and with the consultation now ended, we hear noises that local authorities will be given 18 months or more to put their planning houses in order before those without a valid plan will have to determine applications on the basis of the light touch policies in the NPPF.
This is a significant stick for housebuilders to wave in front of local authorities but it looks unlikely we will be able to wield it until the middle of 2013. That will mean that over three years will have elapsed between the election and implementation of the new planning system. That might be quick in Government circles but against the background of slow recovery from recession, the EU debt crisis and a haltering housing market, it seems pretty lackadaisical for a Government committed to encouraging growth.
Written by Stephen Byfield