Friday, 10 July 2015

Osborne preaches devolution but practises centralisation

George Osborne went big in his budget on the issue of devolution. He is behind the 'Northern Powerhouse' plan to create a powerful city region based around Manchester and to have projects in Leeds, Birmingham and elsewhere. His colleague Greg Clarke, the local government secretary has given a similar message.

So why is the Chancellor now telling local people that he wants to remove their right to make decisions over local planning applications?

The Chancellor's view is that local councils have been to NIMBY-ish and have failed to deliver the new housing needed. He has got a bit of a point in this respect, but most authorities would say that they are not helped by the ever changing regulations from Whitehall and by plans to destroy housing associations through an ill-judged right to buy scheme.

Osborne's answer is to force councils to give automatic planning permission to some housing schemes. This seems like a hugely blunt weapon which will harm local communities.

Most communities are not opposed to development per se. But they do object to insensitive development of bad houses in the wrong places. Here in Launceston, we have set out plans to allow new housing development south of Link Road where the land and infrastructure can cope. We have objected to development in other areas because of the hugely adverse impact on roads. Other towns will have their own concerns. Osborne's plans would appear to remove any vestige of local choice.

But his plans will do even more harm. Councils are currently able to negotiate contributions known as s106 payments to mitigate the harm done by new development. These might pay for public transport, school, leisure or health service improvements for example. Giving an automatic approval to schemes would remove the chance for local councils to negotiate a deal which accurate reflects the impact of a development. It will mean more users of a service with no more money for upkeep.

I agree that we need more housing in Cornwall and across the UK. We need the power to preserve the homes we have for local use and we need to work to build more. But the Conservative plans to give automatic planning permission are the wrong answer in my view.

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