Fyson on ... Conservatives' community-led housing proposal that ignores national target responsibility

A system of administration is not a policy, it is the means of implementing policies.

The Tory opposition would do well to note that, for the sake of creating a meaningful election manifesto if for nothing else.

A series of announcements and briefings has revealed that a planning bill will be introduced within the first year if the Tories are successful in next year's election. Its contents are likely to be outlined soon in a policy paper and will incorporate commitments already published to abolish regional planning and the new Infrastructure Planning Commission.

The intention is to "unleash a new wave of community-led development", reversing the present situation in which "regional and central government ride roughshod over local people's views". This, the prospective voter is assured in another recent green paper, will lead to local people taking ownership of policy and "more homes will be built as a result".

The laudable wish to "deliver enough of the homes people want, in the places people want them" is thus overtaken by a naive belief that local people will drop long-standing nimbyist impulses and welcome many more new homes. Such a change of heart, it is supposed, will be "incentivised" by extra cash payments to local authorities.

This is an unlikely outcome, since most anti-housing campaigners are not going to be bought off by the modest enrichment of the local councils which they all too often regard with suspicion. But even if it works, it still fails to tackle the crucial planning questions of just how many homes are "enough" and where they are to be built. Conservative spokespeople have found themselves in an embarrassing tangle trying to resolve these issues.

Proposals to revert to county structure planning and to make "interim" use of housing target figures suggested by counties for inclusion in regional spatial strategies hark back to the origins of the present dire housing shortages, when largely Tory county councils fought a prolonged and often successful rearguard action to reduce the number of houses they had to build.

In the customary opposition mode of trying to please all interests, random endorsements of stringently preserved green belts, expanded villages, eco-towns not "imposed" but located where local people want them and properly protected back gardens have only made matters worse.

A system emphasising the local may have superficial popular appeal, but it is no substitute for beneficial policy. A discerning and sceptical electorate may well see through such an empty promise.


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