Same Old Plan

The Coalition Government is looking for further fundamental reform of the planning system. This will be the fifth such reform in my career, as every government lacking in ideas and determination to build sufficient new homes and infrastructure of the right sort and in the right location to kick-start economic growth, blames the technicians and processes regulating development. Eric Pickles has dismantled regional planning outside of London, so we now have a world-class city with plans that have no impact of context beyond it’s very tight administrative boundary. We can also look forward to a Localism Bill in the Autumn that promises to encourage DIY planning by local communities.

Now we have Tory peer, Lord Wolfson, writing in The Times yesterday that the authorities should buy up 1% of undeveloped, low grade, agricultural land at twice current land value (£10,000) and then sell it onto developers to build homes where people want to live. Simon Wolfson, Lord Wolfson of Apsley Guise in the County of Bedfordshire, is son of Lord Wolfson, Chairman of Next between 1990 and 1998. Simon joined Next in 2000 and became its chief executive at the age of 33. His big new idea to stimulate housing development is to have each new development governed by a corporation, similar to the Docklands Development Corporation.

Lord Wolfson probably knows no more about planning and development than I know about running a retail empire, which is his only career experience to date. His contribution to the new housing debate is interesting in that at least he raises the question of building where people want to live, but then constrains this to low grade rural land and only where developers want to build. This sentiment is exactly what was behind the Post-War New Towns movement, using the very same development corporation instrument Wolfson suggests.

Let’s actually ask people where they want to live and build to meet demand. I would guarantee, however, that Apsley Guise would be the sort of attractive commuter village pretty near the top of the list. So let’s start a new town campaign for Apsley Guise! If interested, come along to the 250 New Towns Club meeting at 9.30 on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at the Building Centre, Store Street, London.


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