Nimbys must not hold up planning revolution

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

Planning ministers always get a rough ride. If they’re not being barracked by the business community for the slowness of the planning process, or by the construction sector for the lack of develop-able land, they can be guaranteed a tough time from serial objectors to development and progress.

From a business perspective, Nick Boles, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning, has had the courage to do three things. First, he has boldly said that we need to develop a small amount of additional land in England if we are to be able to build vibrant communities, expand dynamic businesses, and house future generations. In a country where less than 3 per cent of land actually contains buildings, and where only 9 per cent is considered urban, harsh constraints on land use are only making it tougher to create the jobs and homes we need.

Second, Mr Boles has committed to making planning reforms work on the ground. Far too often, we in business have heard warm words on this issue, only for local bureaucracy and yes, NIMBYism, stifle any meaningful change.

And third, Mr Boles has put principle ahead of politics. Unlike so many across the political spectrum, he is forcing England to debate tough and sometimes unpalatable issues that are essential to our future economic prosperity and well-being.

Let me be clear. I have unresolved doubts about the mortgage market proposals made by the government in the Chancellor’s recent Budget. I’m not entirely convinced by use-class changes that could starve many towns and cities of commercial and industrial sites in favour of residential. And like others, I would be keen to see brownfield sites used before greenfield, wherever this is economically viable (sometimes, objectors to greenfield development have to realize it isn’t).

Yet when it comes to the planning system, the evidence from the business community and from individuals struggling to find housing, whether rented or owned, is clear. Planning liberalisation is one of the few supply-side tools that the government can use to spur both confidence and economic activity. Mr Boles would do well to keep his hard hat on, and use this tool – knowing he has the full support of the business community.

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