It has been yet another interesting week for planning. I have to say that when Ed Miliband offered me the job of Shadow Planning Minister I never anticipated for a minute the central role planning would play in the government’s agenda. Things were busy in planning terms before the government reshuffle with the publication of the NPPF and a real shake up of planning guidance but since the reshuffle planning has been at the centre of a growing political storm.
Nick Boles, the new Planning Minister (Sept 2012) seems to be managing to upset everybody. First of all he seriously annoyed his own backbenchers by claiming, in a rather frank interview to Newsnight, that we need to build more houses – a lot more houses and that a lot more land would need to be set aside for thus.
On this point I thought he was being quite brave, and openly said so even if the manner in which he delivered the message was a little self congratulatory and made a snobbish attempt to brand many peoples’ homes ‘pig-ugly’. Some in his own party though have labelled him a ‘hate figure’.
But then he had to go and ruin it all with his article in the Mail on Sunday. Now I expect he has managed to upset all the people who thought he did a reasonable job on Newsnight by stating in quite inexplicably that “vast swathes of countryside will have to be sacrificed to build for immigrants”.
This reduces the serious business of planning for sustainable communities to an opportunity for rhetoric that simply panders to the worst of nimbyist and xenophobic scaremongering and the Minister should be ashamed of himself.
Labour is in the process of developing a new planning policy that seeks to use planning positively to build new communities that deliver job, houses, facilities and importantly, the places that people want to live. I welcome the prospect of future debates with Nick Boles and hope he can learn to sensibly discuss the future of planning and what can be achieved through it.