30 Jan 2011

Is New Localism bollocks?



Yes of course it is. That's if you believe any of the stuff in the Core Strategy about sustainability and equality. Don't give the Coalition any credit for having thought any of this through. The agenda here is just the prejudice of the Saloon bar and the Daily Mail and a determination to tear down the constraints of evidence and reason which stand in the way of political and class interest.

An extreme view? Well of course it is, certainly not expressed in the measured terms a planner would normally use. Let's face it we are too constrained by our dependency on politicians to dare to be honest – the fate of the bureaucrat through the ages. But the coalition is attacking everything that planning actually stands for.

Planning can only be understood as part of a political system based on rationality and a belief in equality and progress. In fact the system was set up as part of the emphatic reaffirmation of belief in these values after the horrors of war and in direct response to the injustices and inequalities of the 1930s depression.

Of course the post war consensus was blown apart 30 years ago and planning has had to adapt to work within the market economy. Its role has become fairly peripheral - one of players in influencing development but mostly in ameliorating at the margins. Often it seems to be largely about protecting vested interests and to be a covert tax collector through the affordable housing and S106 routes. So it has been co-opted as a critical part in the equation of the housing bubble which is so fundamental to the problems of the country today.

To understand what is happening in planning, housing, the economy and politics at the moment it is essential to stop thinking that the Coalition is interested in outcomes based on justice, equality, rationality, the long-term or indeed sustainability. Although politicians may use this language the reality is much more naked and brutal. The government's actions are all about rewarding its own supporters which actually means increasing and entrenching inequality, exploiting short term opportunities and not considering the long term consequences. You can see this very clearly in the way poor communities are being hammered in the local government funding cuts at the moment. To be fair to the Coalition, they have not done much to hide this - appointing Pickles as Secretary of State for the Communities was a dead give away, rather like Mrs Thatcher appointing Nicholas Ridley.

But because the Tories are working on atavistic instinct and have not thought anything through, New Localism lacks any clarity or coherence. In fact it means different things to different wings of the Tory party. For the old brigade, those who are or are close to the captains of global capitalism and finance it means getting rid of the vestigial power of planning to frustrate economic development – 'jobs locked up in filing cabinets' as I think Heseltine said all those years ago.

However to the policy wonks who have taken over the attic at Conservative HQ New Localism is one part of the strategy of continual cultural-revolution that they think will build a Britain fit for global capitalism on the ruins of the existing one. This is translated into a libertarian denial of the need for strategic planning and the masquerading of sectional interests as the public good. What New Localism really means for the Tory heartland is the legitimisation of nimbyism.

The Whitehall apparatchiks fully understand that these completely contradictory expectations are undeliverable but the government don't want to listen. It is all part of the Cult of Unreason through which they seek to avoid the inevitability of the real reforms of the economy and society that are required to adapt to Britain's real position in the world, and the position of the world i.e the sustainability crisis.

The crunch will inevitably come over housing. We are staring at the biggest housing crisis in 50 years. Actually this has little to do with planning but it is invariably blamed - a cynical smokescreen for the failure of the Thatcherite housing system. This only worked on cheap credit and endlessly rising house prices which gave the illusion of prosperity and transferred wealth from the have no's to the haves, and the young to the middle aged. Now first time buyers can't afford to buy and can't get mortgages anyway. The model is bust. So where are the affordable housing and the S106 sweeteners going to come from?

The government response is pure Pollyanna but they can't be so daft as to believe that New Localism is going to mean more houses not less. Really they don't care at the moment. Don't you know there is a financial crisis on? We need to take drastic action to put the country back on the road to, err, 2007.

Well let's be honest the government's denial only reflects public opinion. Christmas is a good time to test this – the dreaded question to planners at a party 'what do you do?' quickly degenerates into rage about threatened green belt development,  paradoxically a flood of vitriol against city centre flats – no, any flats – and impotent hatred of Tesco's where the food came from. (Well, that's something we can all agree on anyway.)

New Localism is all based on the Big Lie. It is spun as empowering communities but it is actually about stuffing their democratically elected local government. 'Neighbourhood planning' and the various measures that bypass local authorities going straight to 'communities' are included in the localism bill  when neither neighbourhoods or communities have been defined or have any democratic legitimacy. How typical of the cronyism and cosy old boy club culture by which this country is run.

If this was really a democratic country then we would be having a mature debate about issues and options for development based on real evidence, taking account of a broad spectrum of interests and opinions before locally elected politicians take decisions. That is a reasonable summary of how the planning system used to work. Of course it wasn't perfect but at least its objectives were rational and based on the public interest.

But actually this is an elective dictatorship where Pickles will decide when you empty your dust bin – and none of that Commie nonsense about recycling and sustainability.

6 comments:

Ruth said...

explains things well to an ignorant one - my excuse being that it's not the same in Scotland. or is it? we are awaiting our Tesco appeal outcome.

Julie said...

There are so many parallels in what the Government is doing to the NHS.

Anonymous said...

I came across this website and hoped to read informative articles about planning issues. However, of the three articles I have read so far, all this website seems to contain are one-sided articles that expose the writer's very obvious prejudices.

Michael Edwards said...

Anonymous: your phrase "...expose the writer's very obvious prejudices." is a hostile way of saying that Jones has strong principles and sticks to them. You have different views. Clear.

I'm on Jones' side. Those who enjoy Jones might also enjoy the Planners Network UK which is trying to revive the radical, egalitarian, strand in planning and housing. www.pnuk.org.uk

Kevin Eames said...

Perhaps Anon. should become better informed, generally.

shajeer AP said...

Thanks for this post.

Regards
shajeer
happy valentines day 2017