Let's follow climate experts' scientific advice as well, by Graeme Bell

In early March my wife and I were in Galicia touring the paradors, the heritage hotel chain run by the state.

On the Saturday evening it was announced that all paradors would close the next morning, and all guests would have to leave. Our flight was not until the Tuesday, and our hotel manager allowed us to stay. The building closed around us, staff sent home, dust sheets over the furniture; all Spain was in lockdown.

Venturing out, we were sent back by the police, isolated in splendour. Luckily, kindly Ryanair laid on a plane and we joined some stragglers on the last flight out of Santiago de Compostela. Some on our flight hugged their relatives on arrival at Stansted, where it was business as usual. Concourse teeming, shops trading and public transport packed.

The UK pandemic inquiry will come another day, but we can already guess that it will say our government was slow out of the blocks to lockdown, that we ran down stocks of protective equipment recklessly, that we over-promised and under-delivered on testing and more besides. All this probably cost lives unnecessarily. Hindsight is an exact science, but isn't there something called planning?

There's never been a more important time to view the big picture and to take the long view. Post-pandemic calls for a trend breach of the sort we had after the second world war, which saw the creation of the welfare state and the nationalisation of the right to develop land.

Business as usual is not an option, whether because of the state of the public finances, the state of the planet, or the position of the UK in the world order post-Brexit.

The idea that we can make it up as we go along is clearly dangerous. Having your shirt hanging out is one thing, being caught with your trousers down quite another.

And the solution is clear. Every day at the press briefing a government minister strides to the podium to report on the national situation, taking questions from press and the public, setting out the order of the day. Occasionally, taking a break from changing Pampers, Boris will emerge to put the message across, even talking of a "road map".

Is it possible, dare we hope, that this government has seen the benefit, the value of national planning? We have the statistics, graphs and curves – all that's needed is to attach the geography to complete the picture, to put places to people.

Fascinatingly, the devolved nations are seeking to beat him to the punch in unveiling policies, with Nicola Sturgeon enjoying a good pandemic (as it were).

There will be discussions in No 10 about how Westminster can avoid being upstaged. One way would be for the Prime MInister to commission a UK spatial framework, informed by the strategies of the devolved nations but going beyond, to illustrate how Britons might live a good life in a healthy place in the 21 century.

A 50-year plan for the UK is needed, not least because it will take that long to repay the national debt that is remorselessly clocking up. Above all, it will prepare the nation for the critical issue of climate change. If the mantra is 'we follow the scientific advice', then we should follow the advice of the climate scientists.

If Boris could pull that off, then he could be assured of achieving what he undoubtedly sees as his destiny, to enter the pantheon of heroes of this great nation.

Graeme Bell OBE is a past president of the Planning Officers Society


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