Planning in the media

As 2010 draws to a close, The Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore's review of the year offered a grim view of how the built environment fared over the past 12 months.

"The quality of what is built or proposed is miserable. The government has added to the confusion by ripping up existing planning structures in the name of localism, without putting anything very convincing in its place. The likely outcome is paralysis, punctuated with very big mistakes. The government, depressingly, chose to blame the wrong people for the extravagance of schools built under Labour's monstrous private finance initiative. Rather than the financiers and consultants who are ripping off the state, they went for architects, usually the most conscientious and worst rewarded."

Labour backed proposals for a £17 billion high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham when in power but the party is having second thoughts. The Guardian reported that Labour no longer regards the plans as "untouchable", owing to spending cuts. Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle told the paper that the link would be included in a policy review ordered by leader Ed Miliband and questioned the economic case for the line, which will cost £30 billion if extended to Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield after the first phase is completed in 2026. "We rightly start with a blank sheet of paper - that sheet doesn't have a high-speed train line already running through it." BBC1's The Politics Show reported from the Tory shires, where 16 constituencies are in uproar at the high-speed link passing through their areas. Rachel Halvorsen, a Conservative member of South Northamptonshire Council, said: "It's toys for the boys, with David Cameron wanting to be associated with a vast futuristic project that goes one better than the French." But transport secretary Philip Hammond countered: "All the people I have heard so far making the case against the scheme just happen to live near the line. We will show them the benefits to the national economy but whether we will wholly persuade them, I am not so sure." The Daily Telegraph reported that owners of homes blighted by the link will be in line for millions of pounds in compensation. "Those who are not directly affected, but who can show that their house value has fallen, will have any shortfall reimbursed." Under the "purchase guarantee scheme", the government could underwrite the value of property blighted by the line. This would enable householders to sell their property with the guarantee that if the link is built, the value will be protected by a government pledge to buy it at the full market rate.

On an optimistic note, The Independent reported that more than 190 countries have struck an agreement at the latest round of UN climate talks that put efforts to secure a new international deal to tackle global warming back on track. The talks in Cancun, Mexico, were the latest attempt to move towards a global deal after the fiasco of last year's meeting in Copenhagen.

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