Timely process will reduce blight

My friend Derek is moving house. As usual, the process is taking forever. Will he be moved by Christmas?

After chasing them all, he hears one story from his buyer, another from his agent and yet another from his solicitor regarding the sale. On the purchase side, he at least has certainty and comfort on one issue, as the results of his local authority search tell him that "this property is unaffected by HS2".

How so certain? Does the council official moonlight as a clairvoyant? Does he or she have a direct line to the political party HQs, to News International or the Treasury? (We can safely assume the Department for Transport will be the last to know.) The answer may be all or none of these, but I do need to tell you that Derek's new house is in deepest Suffolk. I know, you couldn't make it up!

Now, imagine you are trying to sell a house actually along the HS2 route: the blight must be enormous. And it gets bigger, as we now hear that the former Grand Central Line, whose trackbed is intact in sections from London to Rugby and points north, might be a contender as HS2 lite.

Whether either of these schemes proceeds or not, we must find a better way of reaching decisions on such major projects. Localism will never deliver a coherent route map for transport.

Of course, such a strategy was promised, and you may recall that the 2008 Planning Act (which created the Infrastructure Planning Commission, now incorporated into the Planning Inspectorate) gave the green light for government to publish National Policy Statements (NPSs). Does it surprise you that five years on, the draft NPS for Transport Networks has yet to be issued for consultation?

Successive governments are pleased to make announcements, but are caught in the headlights of the focus group when it comes to specifics, particularly those with price tags and tax hikes attached. So nailing down strategic policy for land use and movement is like trying to capture mercury in a Petri dish.

Planners are well versed in such difficulties; we all know that a criteria-based approach evokes a great yawn from consultees and politicians alike. But someone has to draw a line on a map or put a blob on a plan at some point. Blight is inevitable, but it can be minimised through a timely process.

If politicians are serious about a new wave of garden cities and the delivery of thousands of new homes, these investments need to be co-located around transport networks in sustainable developments. Nettles must be grasped - that's the job of governance.

For all he knows, Derek might end up under the flightpath of an expanded Stansted airport, but his local authority search is silent on the issue of aircraft noise!

Graeme Bell is a former Secretary of the National Planning Forum and is a vice president of the Town and Country Planning Association


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