Conservative “localism” bodes ill for UK developers – Lesson 2

The Saint ReportPoliticians and Planning, saintblogLeave a Comment

(The second in a series of posts on the likely impact on the UK development industry of an incoming Conservative Government.  Part 1 looked at the difficult General Election win the Tories should just about achieve on 6th May 2010).

By Nick Keable,
Vice President, UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group

conservative_party_logoAssuming that the Conservative Party does win next year’s General Election, what are they actually going to do?

Well, the future is already available…in the Green Papers the Conservatives have been publishing recently.  For the development industry, it’s not good reading.

To understand their overall attitude, you have to understand what ‘localism’ is.  This is a fundamental mantra of the Conservative Party right now. 

‘Localism’ is a term used by UK political geeks to explain the counter-reaction to the current Labour Government’s approach: creating a central (Federal) Government controlled, target driven system to force regional and local government to do what it wants.  In the words of the Conservative planning spokesman, Grant Shapps MP: “We don’t believe in a top-down approach that is Stalinist in nature.”

So any current policy that smacks of centrism, is doomed:

Thus, Labour’s newly created Infrastructure Planning Commission – designed to take decision-making on controversial strategic infrastructure development away from politicians – is to be merged by the Tories into the existing Planning Inspectorate, with elected ministers actually making the final decision rather than faceless bureaucrats, (so that politicians can once again meddle).

Thus, Regional Development Agencies – a Labour Government creation, recently given more powers over setting regional development policy in line with central Government policy – are also  doomed, with the Tories replacing them with committees of elected local council leaders in each region.

You get the drift?  The Tories will be on a splurge once in power to undo much of what Labour has created and replace it with new structures where decision-making will be pushed down to the lowest possible political level.

This is bad news for the development industry, as once again Government focuses on changing the rules within which developers operate just at the post-recession moment when they need certainty and no new costs to wash away the slim viability of their new projects.

All this comes into particularly sharp focus, on the thorny subject of housing.  National Government tells us we have a housing crisis, with millions of new homes needed, whilst local councils under pressure from local NIMBYs seemingly refuse as many residential applications as they can.  Here the Tories have a ‘cunning plan’, about which, more next time….

Nick Keable is vice president for UK operations, The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone +44 207 592 7050. 

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