UK Politics

Planning reform critics 'to be disappointed by review'

Oxfordshire countryside

Remember thatbattle the government had with the National Trustwhere it seemed to find itself very uncomfortably on the wrong side of the silent majority whose idea of Sunday afternoon fun is a stately home, afternoon tea and trip to the gift shop?

It was over the rather dry-sounding issue of how to reform the planning system but the National Trust believed the government intended to allow developers to pave paradise. And the government was forced by the fracas to go away and consult.

Well, the consultation is not over yet but I understand that the eventual document is not going to go down well with the National Trust, English Heritage, Daily Telegraph and so on (apologies, I know I've missed many).

Treasury officials met officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government on Monday after the Chancellor George Osborne grilled Communities Secretary Eric Pickles about the non-appearance of this plan in Cabinet one week ago. Because of the "tense" grilling Monday's meeting was convened.

Now sources say it is "highly unlikely" the new document is going to please its critics. The phrase "a presumption in favour of sustainable development" is to stay, and indeed the Treasury is pushing for it to be implemented incredibly quickly.

There may be a more explicit "glossary", I understand, to make it absolutely clear that drills do not start up in ancient woodlands - better explanations of areas of outstanding beauty and so on - but the plan is to be hardly altered from its first incarnation.

The process of debate is this - does it come out on the Monday after the document as a discrete entity where the government will try to emphasise it is about what is best for communities rather than for the macro-economy? Or does it come out in the Budget explicitly as a growth document?

(By the way, my hunch is that this Budget is going to be a bigger deal than we realised, that the Treasury has allowed debate to get up around peripheral issues like mansion taxes and the 50p tax rate to allow them space to crack on with supply side changes to the British economy, but I may well be over-thinking this).

The Treasury is very bullish about this timing issue right now. They actually think that in this area, they may not have been as radical as they would like.

For people less interested in process it means this - the government hopes building will start up soon - greater housing construction which means greater local employment, but also more homes for, among other people, first time buyers, so depressing price and so on.

That's the idea.

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