Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS)
I have always thought that planning is critical to the saving human’s agenda. The origins of planning that were tied up with a housing and public health legislative response to the squalor and deprivation we found in our 19th century cities provided a strong drive to improve the quality of life for people living in our cities. The concept of the “public interest” has been a central feature of the system since then – although this concept has been contested at times planning has been very much about making our towns and cities better places to lives and to improving the quality of life for local residents. Recently it is a very interesting time for the urban planning in England. Planning in many ways has been under attack. We have witnessed considerable planning reforms since the Coalition Government were in power with the arrival of the National Planning Policy Framework, the revocation of the Regional Spatial Strategies and introduction of the neighbourhood planning and community rights agenda under the Localism Act 2011. Moreover, planning never seems to be far from the news particularly in relation to the current housing crisis, building homes on the green belt, the potential re-emergence of garden cities, major infrastructure projects such as HS2, developers potentially running amok in the British countryside and this government’s clear antipathy towards wind farms.
The recent surge in the popularity of UKIP got me thinking about what might happen to planning if UKIP got into power and having control over local councils in any meaningful way. According to a recent edition of Planning magazine their manifesto has some interesting planning proposals including:
- Measures to attack “major developers with large cheque books”
- Pledges to protect the countryside from house building by controlling immigration
- Identifies potential “incentives” to bring 800,000 empty homes into use
- Pledges for referenda on major local schemes
- A proposal to scrap planning gain mechanisms such as section 106 agreements
- A proposal to return the old system of local and county development plans
- Opposition to both HS2 and wind farms
It seems that a lot of these proposals are actually a bit contradictory and certainly do not seem to add up to a sensible way forward. Certainly the proposal to potentially scrap section 106 agreements is highly questionable as this has been an important tool for planners to negotiate important community benefits from developers in return for planning permission including affordable housing. These are described as “community bribes” in the manifesto but are in reality an important part of the planner’s toolkit to secure appropriate development.
Unlike the other parties the UKIP agenda presents a very anti-development stance and certainly flies in the face of the pro-growth planning agenda of this government. But it could appeal to a number of voters who potentially feel threatened by recent housing proposals or major projects such as HS2 and provides and interesting challenge for both planners and developers should UKIP manage to gain any further momentum in future local elections. But I suppose the issue is to watch this space and to see how UKIP’s stance on planning and development issues develops into the future and toward the next elections.