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Friday, December 26, 2014

Tory Minister in 'do what I say not what I do' row

When I listen to Ministers talk about deregulating planning I wonder if any of them have ever sat on a planning committee. It is never as black and white as they like to pretend.

That is not to say that the planning process could not be improved or even that planners could not be a bit more relaxed in their approach to certain restricted areas with the objective of helping people onto the housing ladder for example. Clearly, that change in approach is desirable.

This story in the Times though is one that all those calling for change should note. They say that a senior Tory who is a close ally of George Osborne and who has highlighted the virtues of planning deregulation tried to block an “ugly” new development next to his £1.6 million Edwardian home:

Matthew Hancock, the business and energy minister, opposed an application to build a family home on the site of a row of disused garages in Kensal Rise, northwest London.

He told The Times that he had supported the principle of building a property on the site but objected to its aesthetics, which were described by planning officers as “an innovative contemporary design” made of cedar timber boards and a metal roof.

“It’s a line of Edwardian houses that have a particular style and then they were proposing to put a very modern design on the end which was very ugly,” Mr Hancock said. “I’m worried about it because it’s inconsistent with the street and it’s right on my doorstep.”

He ultimately failed to prevent the request being approved by Brent council, a decision he described as “disappointing”. However, after the meeting on December 10, the developer offered him the chance to discuss the details of the design.

Mr Hancock, who also has a home in his West Suffolk constituency, has previously spoken in favour of relaxing planning rules. Speaking at a meeting of the Commons public accounts committee, the former housing market adviser to the Bank of England said: “Is not a value-for-taxpayer-money way to build housing to grant more planning permissions?

“Would that not have the twin effect of allowing that uplift to be used for the building of affordable homes — in other words, affordable with a capital ‘A’ — and for making homes more affordable by increasing their supply?”

Sometimes Ministers need to be careful what they wish for.
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