One of the dogs that didn’t bark this week was the planning row between the National Trust et al and the government. Those expecting more sound and fury over the “national planning policy framework” have been left disappointed.
There have instead been hints at reconciliation and compromise: the Times reported that the planning document will be softened; Building magazine suggests there will be a transition period; elsewhere ministers say they do prefer brownfield to greenfield sites after all.
In a speech yesterday, planning minister Greg Clark insisted that ministers were “stewards of a matchless countryside”.
But rest assured, the government is ploughing ahead with the broad thrust of the plans. For the government there is a determination not to give way on the main policy. As one cabinet minister told us: “This is one issue which George Osborne simply will not turn back on.”
The presumption in favour of sustainable development is still at the heart of the document. For all the talk of going through the policy, line by line, holding hands with the National Trust, this will still be a framework which developers will welcome.
I’ve written here before that both sides have exaggerated the potential impact of the document; it will neither give the economy an adrenalin boost nor result in the desecration of the countryside. (Despite our satirist Matthew Engel describing Clark this morning as the minister for concreting over the countryside).
Last year some 100,000 homes were built. The Housebuilders Federation pointed out last week that even if 250,000 homes a year were built for 25 years it would only cover 1 per cent of England’s land mass. For builders to get to that level of production would require the banks to start lending like they were before the credit crunch; that isn’t going to happen in a hurry.