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Simplified Planning: the need for sunset clauses

SIMPLIFY THE PLANNING SYSTEM

In common with all recent Governments, the Coalition has often declared its ambition to “cut red tape”. Yet only modest gains have been achieved, write Keith Boyfield and Inna Ali in Simplified Planning: the need for sunset clauses, published on Monday 6 May by the Centre for Policy Studies.

  • In the first half of 2011, 278 new regulations were introduced compared to 150 regulations in the first six months of the Blair Government;
  • In the first eight months of 2012, almost one-fifth of the Impact Assessments were judged as “not fit for purpose”;
  • While the absolute number of new laws (both Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments) fell by 8% to its lowest level since 2002, there were still 1,727 new laws passed in the whole of 2011.
  • Nor has the “One In/One Out” (now “One In/Two Out”) proposal had as great an impact as desired: excluding the DWP, the cumulative cost of regulation under the One In/One Out programme has actually increased.

Planning regulations, in particular, remain notoriously complex. 118 Acts – including the Artisans and Labourers Dwelling Act 1868, the Landlord and Tenant (War Damage) Act, the Nuisance Removal Act 1855, the Sanitary Act 1866 and the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932  combine to create a “lawyer’s banquet” of complexity.

The renewed interest in Garden Cities is to be welcomed. While the failure of post-War New Town developments is widely recognised, the exception is Milton Keynes which continues to flourish. Applying the lessons of its success (and that of the Urban Development Corporations) could lead to a new era of privately-financed Garden Cities, thereby greatly easing the current housing shortage while also spurring economic growth. 

The authors recommend:

  • The proportion of regulations covered by the One In/One Out programme should be greatly extended, the rigour, quality and monitoring of Impact Assessments should be greatly improved and sunset clauses should be more widely adopted.
  • Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) should be employed in certain circumstances to assemble sufficient land for new construction.
  • In terms of planning regulation, a more market-orientated approach is needed to meet the pressing demand for housing of all types. The Coalition is moving in the right direction but can go further.
  • A first step must be to simplify all current planning regulation. A New Consolidated Act should be enacted which rationalises the 118 statutes that currently impact on planning and development. This New Consolidated Act should be specifically designed to reduce the unacceptable delays inherent in today’s planning system.
  • Planning gains need to be priced and recognised by a planning system that takes into account the economic case for a development.
  • Instead of deliberately planning for an ‘optimal’ urban form, it should be the choices and actions that people make which, in the medium term, determines future development.
  • This is best revealed by the subjective view of their inhabitants as signalled by the relative willingness to pay for different types of development scheme.
  • If more Garden Cities are to be built, the private sector must be free to design, fund and build such developments in an attractive and sustainable manner. Successful new developments would be likely to include a full mix of housing rather than shun the owner occupied sector as too often happened – disastrously – in the past.
  • Central government should encourage neighbouring local councils to come together to identify potential sites for new Garden Cities.
  • Once a design framework has been agreed, development rights for the construction of these new urban centres should be auctioned. This should encourage diversity and local interest.
  • As part of this process, covenants should lay down responsibilities for infrastructure such as urban parks, retail shops and entertainment and leisure facilities. These market mechanisms can bring landlord, developer, builder and consumer together and enable the quality and control of the overall environment to be part of the overall attraction of a site.

Tim Knox, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies comments:

“The Coalition is right to have identified the complexity of the current planning system as a major obstacle to growth. It should learn from the historic success of Milton Keynes and the plans for a new Garden City at Old Hatfield to see how implementing real reform can free up the planning process to the great benefit of both would-be homeowners and the wider economy.”

Keith Boyfield and Inna Ali - Monday 6th May 2013

Keith Boyfield is a leading economist and writer who specialises in marketing, competition and regulatory policy. He runs a City consultancy advising multi national companies, non profit organisations and media groups.  He has also served as a consultant to the European Commission.