Gummer on ... Getting a grip over localism

Localism in planning is likely to be revolutionary. For many it is frightening, for others it is an affront.

What is less clear is the degree to which people in general and professionals in particular have thought through the practical implications.

In every meeting that I have on the subject, the conversation starts on the proposed changes but always moves rapidly to the views on the policy of the developers, planners or councillors involved. Keeping them to the subject - the consideration of how to deal with the changes - requires steely chairmanship.

That means that the planning community is remarkably badly prepared to make the best of the radical changes that we face. Resigned acceptance is simply not enough. Reforms are not going to go away - decentralisation minister Greg Clark is a persistent and determined fellow who has the ear of the prime minister.

Nor are the impending changes going to be mere window-dressing. Transferring power to local level represents an important element in the glue of the coalition and it formed a key part of the election manifestos of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

In all the discussions, one of the issues that has been largely overlooked is what some would call the Merton factor. Localism will mean that councils will be under pressure to set local standards in sustainability which go beyond national guidelines.

Of course, the establishment won't like it because it will mean dealing differently with different local councils. But so it should - that is what localism is all about.

- Lord Deben was formerly MP for Suffolk Coastal and served as environment secretary from 1993 to 1997.


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