Gummer on ... hitting back at the critics

Thanks to the profession itself, the current debate on planning is being shaped by its detractors.

But these critics have not started from the premise that the system is good but, like anything else, needs some improvement.

Instead, they promulgate the assumption that planning is an incubus, something that is bad for our national competitiveness, slowing vital infrastructure development and causing our housing crisis. I am constantly told by people who should know better that their controversial proposals are "stuck in the system", as though it is a malignant force specifically designed to thwart their eminently reasonable schemes.

The reality is utterly different. Planning is the necessary corollary of living in a vibrant society with huge aspirations, a growing population and limited land. It is inevitable that there should be competition for the use of space when there is so much that we want to do with the land that we have.

The importance of private ownership should alert us to the danger of using planning as a kind of nationalisation. But that should not detract from planning's importance, not least because it is there to reconcile competing rights deriving from the same principle of private property.

Planning is also a crucial tool in the battle against climate change, the way we can ensure that future development is sustainable. It allows us to protect the integrity of the countryside and the vitality of towns. It enables good architecture and safeguards community and social interests. So it is time the profession reclaimed the high ground, reasserting the importance of improving what we have rather than toppling it all and starting again.

Former environment secretary John Gummer is Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal.

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