Planning deregulation: Anarcho-Capitalist Osborne risks big Tory backlash

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Sep 3 00:34:56 BST 2012

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George Osborne plans deregulation of planning laws
Campaigners' fears raised as chancellor calls for 
'imaginative' thinking over use of green belt land
Rajeev Syal, Sunday 2 September 2012 11.58 BST

George Osborne says economy is healing but 
problems continue Link to this video

George Osborne has signalled plans for a major 
deregulation of planning laws, raising the 
prospect of allowing more development of green belt land.
In an interview on Sunday, the chancellor of the 
exchequer said he wanted to see more 
"imaginative" thinking by planning authorities, 
which could allow building on previously protected land.
His words will anger some ministers and members 
of the coalition who have campaigned for 
protected green belts around urban areas to remain free of development.
The announcement of new legislation, which the 
government hopes will be "fast tracked" into law 
by October, will also be seen as an 
acknowledgement that the economy needs a major injection of capital.
In the interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, 
Osborne acknowledged the difficulties the country 
was having in moving out of recession, saying 
there was no "magical" solution but insisted that 
despite sustained negative growth, progress was being made.
He refused to say whether he would give up his 
role as head of the Conservatives' political 
strategy in the cabinet reshuffle – due to be 
announced this week – in order to focus on the economy.
Osborne also refused to rule out the option of 
building a third runway at Heathrow, saying "all 
options" were being considered. Last week, 
Downing Street insisted it was sticking to the 
coalition policy not to add a new runway, despite 
intense pressure from the business sector and Tory backbenches to reconsider.
Osborne said new planning legislation would be 
brought before parliament in the next two weeks.
"We will have a specific piece of legislation 
published next week so that government can use 
the low interest rates we have earned by being 
tough on the deficit to underwrite construction 
projects including housing," he said.
Asked if this would mean developers would be 
allowed to build on green belt land, Osborne 
said: "We published our national planning policy 
framework in March and we are not preparing to tear that up.
"But if you look for example at Cambridge, they 
have been pretty smart about swapping some bits 
of the green belt for other bits – in other words 
allowing some development on the green belt if 
you bring in new pieces of land into the green belt.
"Those powers already exist but are not widely 
used. I would like to see more," he said.
Planning policy was thought to be a settled issue 
after the government backed down on plans to 
loosen planning rules earlier this year following 
a campaign by the National Trust.
Councils are drawing up new local development 
plans to comply with the national planning policy 
framework (NPPF) by next April.
Under plans being considered by ministers, local 
authorities may no longer be required to hold a 
public inquiry if green belt land loses its protected status.
England's green belt covers over 6,000 sq miles 
of countryside around towns and cities to prevent urban sprawl.
This week's new bill will enable the government 
to guarantee up to £40bn of private sector investment in infrastructure.
Treasury insiders said they were already involved 
in talks with 30 companies over the proposed 
projects, including proposals for the £600m 
Mersey Gateway project, a six-lane toll bridge between Widnes and Runcorn.
A further announcement, also this week, is 
expected to set out plans for guaranteeing 
construction of new homes, with guarantees worth up to £10bn.
This will be followed by an economy bill which 
will set out further help including more planning reforms.
The legislation will be fast tracked in order to 
ensure that detailed discussions with commercial 
parties can take place as soon as possible. It is 
expected to receive royal assent by the end of October.
Osborne said the low level of bank lending was 
one of the economy's key weaknesses, and also 
proposed a "small business bank" to bring 
together existing schemes to boost lending to small businesses.
The prime minister, David Cameron, is expected to 
announce new measures to stimulate the housing market on Thursday.
Osborne's plans are likely to be bitterly fought 
inside the cabinet, with senior Liberal Democrats 
and the communities secretary, Eric Pickles – who 
negotiated the peace deal over the national 
planning policy framework – reportedly opposed to further changes.
The chancellor declined to say whether the 
announcement was an acknowledgement that the 
government's economic strategy was not working. 
"They are difficult times for the British 
economy, difficult times for the world, but our 
economy is healing, jobs are being created. It is 
taking time but there is no easy route to a magical recovery," he said.
"This country faces a big question about this 
country's future role in the world. I am 
determined that we will be in the right place at 
the right time to ensure that we are one of the 
western economies that thrives in this new world," he said.
Osborne also refused to say whether he would give 
up his role as the Tories' senior political 
strategist – despite demands from backbenchers 
that he concentrate on the economy.
The Tory MP for Northampton South, Brian Binley, 
called this weekend for Osborne to stand down 
from his job to concentrate on winning the next election.
"I am 110% focused on the economy – any changes 
to the cabinet will be announced by the prime minister," Osborne said.
Cameron has signalled the start of his political 
fightback by vowing to "cut through the dither" 
that he says is holding Britain back.
As MPs prepare to return to Westminster on Monday 
following the summer break, the prime minister 
promised a series of high-profile initiatives to 
get the country moving again and breathe new life into the flagging economy.
His comments will be seen as a riposte to 
discontented Tory MPs who have attacked his 
leadership during the recess, with one senior 
backbencher suggesting he was a political "mouse".
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Cameron made clear 
he was ready to take on his critics – bringing 
forward controversial measures to boost growth by relaxing planning rules.
He said the country could not afford the 
"paralysis" that caused new housing developments 
to be held up by entrenched local opposition and lengthy planning inquiries.
"A familiar cry goes up: 'Yes we want more 
housing, but no to every development – and not in 
my back yard.' The nations we're competing 
against don't stand for this kind of paralysis and neither must we," he wrote.
"Frankly, I am frustrated by the hoops you have 
to jump through to get anything done – and I come 
back to parliament more determined than ever to 
cut through the dither that holds this country back."
Meanwhile, the Tory rightwinger David Davis said 
the government must draw up a new, alternative 
pro-growth strategy to get the economy moving.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, 
Cameron's former rival for the party leadership 
said a further round of spending cuts before the 
general election in 2015 was "inevitable".
"The coalition's cuts should have been earlier 
and deeper," he said. "This is not about 
individual policy areas. This is about something 
more fundamental 
 something deeper. There is an alternative economic policy."
Labour said the government's new proposals to 
stimulate growth showed a lack of ideas.
Chris Leslie, the shadow financial secretary to 
the Treasury, said the chancellor was desperate 
to cling on to his failing plan, regardless of 
the long-term damage the IMF had warned it risked doing to the economy.
"We will look closely at the details of any 
further changes to the planning system, including 
what happens to protections for the green belt. 
But this will not address the real reasons why 
construction has contracted in the last year, 
such as slashed public investment in housing and 
the lack of confidence and demand in the economy.
"What we need is a change of course and real 
action now to boost jobs and growth, including 
genuinely bringing forward infrastructure 
projects, a temporary cut in VAT and tax breaks 
for small firms taking on extra workers."
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