The best laid planning o’ Boles an' men...
The planning minister is making plans. Plans about homes.
But rather than just following the requirements of his job description, it seemed to his audience today at Policy Exchange, where he gave a speech in favour of developing on greenfield sites, a “simple if painful choice”, that he was on a somewhat more personal crusade.
Amid some intricate meandering around the minutiae of planning permission, talk of SSSI and AONB*, Boles’ personal ambition as a brand new minister to carve a path, to blaze a trail – preferably through some hitherto untouched forest land – was clear.
He admitted to terror during David Cameron’s party conference speech last year hailing in the ‘aspiration nation’ as “one of David Cameron’s newest and most junior ministers”, describing the prospect of trying to build new homes across Britain as “a challenge that keeps me awake at night.”
Later he rather poetically said he’s “perching on the lower branches” of the Communities and Local Government Department hierarchy.
So is it this small bird in a big brownfield site syndrome that has sent our new planning minister into overdrive on schemes to develop enough new housing for Britain, where home ownership in 2011 fell for the first time in 60 years? If food prices had increased as fast as house prices have done in the past 30 years, he told us, a supermarket chicken would cost £47.
But Boles is no chicken in his battle against nimbys, unveiling a plan that will give councils which create development plans - and win local people’s support via a referendum - 25% of the community infrastructures levy from the housing scheme, with which to do anything they please. If you think it sounds a bit like a bribe, you’re right. Even the minister himself has labelled it the “Boles bung”.
And Boles made further bold statements, hinting at his future target (“my hope”, he called it) that everyone currently building houses will continue at that number, plus 10 per cent, and saying “I promise” when asked to speak to the DfT about providing additional housing land. He called it his “New Year’s resolution.”
Strong words, indeed, but is Boles getting ahead of himself here? A “moral” responsibility it may be to house the next generation, but his optimism and promises may easily be scuppered by political realities – both from the localities he is trying to tempt and the government he is attempting to shape. He may be kept awake at night for longer than he'd wish.
*Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Natural Beauty, for any acronymbies out there.