Devolving decision-making just introduces jargon and confusion

What do volunteerism, localism, the big society, service user engagement, innovative partnerships and collaboration have in common?

Some of this litany of jargon is the old claptrap that infected planning and befuddled the public and professionals alike. Some of it is the new claptrap to disguise major cuts in services and budgets as everything devolves to the local level and beyond.

A whole cottage industry will soon be peddling these terms in studies, strategies and documents and at every conference like snake-oil salesmen.

Yet far from being enthused by the great opportunity that ministers think this represents for planning, whole swathes of the country have sunk into confusion.

This week the Building and Social Housing Foundation looked at the situation across the Midlands and the north since the revocation of regional strategies. It found that many areas have little idea what their eventual housing targets will be or the process and timetable for setting them.

Some are struggling to understand what they have to do. While ministers tell local authorities to refer back to their "option 1 figures", the number of homes they believed they would need by 2026, many are unclear what this means. Is it the figure first produced by their technical work, or the one that emerged later in the first draft of the regional spatial strategy?

Some authorities fear they no longer have the original figures. Others admit that they don't have the capacity to produce anything of suitable robustness.

The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit helped fill this gap, but now it is on the scrapheap. Regional leaders' boards have met a similar fate. The overriding impression is of a planning system going to hell in a handcart, with disastrous consequences for the economy.

It's rarely a good idea to get rid of expertise. Essential checks on how the government's policy changes are progressing have been removed. On one level, this is incredibly shortsighted. On another, it could be viewed as a cynical ploy by ministers who struggle to understand any kind of strategic concept.

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