It was Bill Clinton who came up with the now much-reported phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid”. And now, in 2012, we could repeat it to give a synopsis of the government’s much-needed focus towards boosting growth.
The prime minister has returned this autumn telling all government departments to focus on how their own areas can contribute to growth. The Department for Communities and Local Government is no exception and the planning changes announced last week signal a determination to see the development industry contribute to our country’s economic recovery.
Because, of course, it can do just that. Construction is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy: each £1 spent on construction generates a total of £2.84 in economic activity. The government recognises this and is making it easier to build more homes and indeed build on existing homes.
The first proposal to note concerns the much talked about Green Belt. With the details of the final National Planning Policy Framework published earlier this year, critics came out in support of the finished article, with the government proving its commitment to the countryside.
So we must not get bogged down again in Green Belt controversy.
The chancellor’s announcement last week was common sense. Development should go ahead on the Green Belt if another equivalent area of land in the local area is added to it. Former Green Belt is being swapped for new Green Belt; the net result is no reduction in the total Green Belt.
The other main reform that concerns construction revolves around permitted development rights. Home owners are to be allowed to build larger extensions on their houses – up to 8 metres for detached homes and 6 metres for others.
As a constituency MP, a word of caution does need to be raised on this: conflicts can exist between neighbours and sometimes objections to a proposal for an extension can be perfectly valid. Extensions and development rights can be contentious, but hopefully this short-term move will provide some stimulus to the economy, especially to small builders.
And a final point to raise on recent announcements is the prime minister’s commitment to “cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back”. I have two cases in my constituency where this change can ensure construction and development can get under way.
The power of “statutory consultees” is too great – often inhibiting local authorities from making a decision on planning permission until they have received approval from all necessary consultees. Their power needed to be curtailed to boost development and I am glad we are moving in that direction.
In short, recent announcements on the housing sector and construction should be viewed entirely in the light of economic recovery. I am glad the government acknowledges the importance housing and planning can play in getting our economy moving again.