The tactics in the battle of Daily Telegraph v George Osborne/Greg Clark over the planning system are the equivalent of trench warfare. The ministers insist, day in, day out, that they will not budge over its planned changes. Introducing a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development” will help the economy to grow, they fervently believe.
On the other side we have the Telegraph, which agrees with charities who fear that the changes (a new ‘national planning policy framework’) are a licence for developers to run amok.
The Tel believes that by running front page stories every day it will finally force the government to capitulate. So far we have had doomsday stories suggesting this slender document will result in the death of English countryside; Noah-style flooding; a collapse in house prices; and even the slaughter of all children born within 100 metres of an oak tree*. Equally, ministers seem to hope that if they keep repeating their arguments ad nauseum the Tel will just give up and turn its attention elsewhere.
I’ve written before about how both sides are exaggerating the potential impact of the changes.
What is curious, however, is that the new “presumption” has its antecedents which – on the face of it – were equally, if not more, positive for developers. (I only know this because someone senior at DCLG pointed it out to me.)
For four decades, until 1991, there was a presumption in favour of development which “did not cause demonstrable harm to interests of acknowledged importance“. That then changed into a “presumption in favour of the development plan, unless material considerations indicated otherwise“. Then in 2004 this was replaced by a John Prescott plan expressly designed to get thousands of new homes built.
In other words, the new guidelines are not massively different to those which came before – and which did not cause enormous angst.
Of course you could argue that during that period Britain saw some damaging out-of-town development, reminiscent of the USA – and that many green fields were lost. But it is wrong to suggest that Osborne’s new plan is in any sense revolutionary.
* This may be a slight exaggeration