Monday 4 April 2011

Planning an easy target?

More on the planning debate. A group of academics, planners and community organisers writing in the Guardian last weekend: "As the budget has shown, the planning system is an easy target." I am not so sure. Easy to target, perhaps, but difficult to radically change. As my colleague Paul Cheshire points out: "In Britain the regulatory system is still essentially as constructed by the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947 [...] There have been many modifications since 1947 but the Act established an approach and framework that has not been superseded". The letter writers continue: "There is, however, little evidence to support the claim that reforming it would produce a substantial boost for economic growth. The evidence that does exist is weak, coming almost exclusively from free-market economists." Technically true (in the narrow sense that economists would use the phrase "economic growth") but misleading in the wider context. Planning requires resources to implement, affects the costs of living and directly restricts, and otherwise seeks to influence, the location of economic activity. For all these reasons (and more) planning has economic consequences. These effects are important and should not be lightly dismissed as the wishful thinking of 'free market economists' driven by 'neo-liberal dogma'.