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Toulmin Smith on planning pains

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LGC's Toulmin Smith believes the planning process offers a lot of pain for not much gain.

I have spent many convivial evenings at my Masonic lodge discussing regeneration with property developers. The conversation normally proceeds in this vein:

“You may have planning permission for your combined retail ‘plaza’, paintball centre and cinematograph on the old crematorium site, but the council will require you to build 50 affordable homes and an interactive abattoir,” I say.

The developer expostulates: “That’s outrageous Toulmin you’re selling planning permissions!”

“My dear chap,” I respond. “The government says we must, because if councils can tap developers for social housing and public amenities, it can meet its targets without troubling the taxpayer.”

This riposte normally leaves the developer sourly asking how he may afford another villa in Antibes if he must divert his profits into public works.

But these good times are ceasing to roll. The credit crunch has filled the streets with property developers wearing sandwich boards with piteous slogans such as “please donate, servants’ wages and public school fees to pay”.

Their work is at a standstill, yet the government housing targets remain, and the community infrastructure levy will seek to abstract yet more from this rapidly drying well. I am sufficiently alarmed to contact Mistress Blears. I tell her: “All your assumptions about providing affordable homes are based on the lion’s share coming from developers as part of planning gain.

“If these hard times mean they are not building homes for sale, there will be little ‘planning’ from which to receive any ‘gain’ and meeting your targets for new homes will be as likely as meeting the budget for the London Olympic Games.”

At that, the line goes dead.

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