The Labour Planning Paradox

ABOVE: Oliver Banks chatting with Robert Blackman-Woods

Labour have just launched their new Plannning Commission policy at their conference. We caught up with our shadow minister for planning, Roberta Blackman-Woods beforehand to discuss the party’s ambitions for the NPPF, Local Plans and the Housing Crisis.

At this year’s Labour Conference Brexit, antisemitism, factional power struggles and controversial speeches took almost all the limelight. While all that drama was unfolding we found ourselves in a small room outside the conference venue with some of Labour’s most senior planning policy figures all poised to announce what could be the biggest shakeup to the party’s planning policy since the Land Value Tax.

Roberta Blackman-Woods has been chipping away at a very big question for a very long time: “How can Labour change planning for the better” – she may have gotten close to an answer with the Labour Planning Commission.

Make no mistake, the purpose of this commission is to present in 2019 an entirely new national planning system.

Here’s how its billed to work; between now and September 2019 a consortium of planning experts from local governments, Labour politicians, the LGA, the RTPA, the TCPA, the BPF, the FMB and RICS will tour the towns and cities of the UK speaking with councillors, developers, residents, consultants, planners and local politicians about the planning process and how it could be improved. Now if you think that’s rather a lot of initialisms (some very prestigious ones you’ll doubtless recognise) then you’d be right and that’s a fairly strong indicator of how seriously this is being taken by Labour chiefs.

Labour has come out and said in no uncertain terms it believes the planning procedure in the UK is broken and unfit for purpose, rather than complaining and offering no solutions they’ve set up a robust panel to travel the length and breadth of the country to find a solution.

But we’re worried (even though many of us are lifelong Labour supporters), that the solution will simply be more regulation, more hoops and more bureaucracy.

The balance to be struck here is exceptionally fine, too much capitulation to residents who feel embattled by the planning process and you could further stall development and home-building, too many concessions to developers and you risk alienating the core Labour voter.

We’re looking to contribute to the commission’s consultation across the country and believe there’s a strong case to be made for greater granularity in the NPPF, so that a one size fits all rule won’t stifle development in Surrey while radicalising the opinions of residents in Southwark.

If Labour’s Planning Commission achieves anything, it should unveil the paradox at the heart of the planning process, that the time of a one size fits all national planning framework is unsustainable in this day and age, and that as councils are given greater and greater financial independence they should too receive greater powers of self-determination on planning.