Five changes to look for UK planning politics if Tories oust Labour government

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By Nick Keable

Vice President, UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group

uk On the latest polling data, the current UK Labour Government is likely to be voted out of power in 2010 (or earlier if the Prime Minister has a suicide wish and calls a General Election before then). Assuming that after another year of unendingly ghastly recession news, the possibility of a hung Parliament recedes and the polls continue to be favourable for the Conservatives, then David Cameron could become Prime Minister.

So what?

Well the political landscape would change significantly, and that would have a very major impact on land use politics in the UK. Five observations to consider:

cameron1. Tory control – The national political cycle and the local political cycle would, unusually and only for a period, be in sync. The current Labour Government has been quite pro-development in the last few years, desperate for continued growth and to drive up housing numbers. Meanwhile, increasingly Conservative controlled local government has been fighting battle after battle against development and developers all over the country. With Tories in control everywhere, developers would face a much more difficult time politically.

2. Regional government would be dismantled – One of the few stated policies of the Conservative Party is to abolish Regional Development Agencies, which are at this moment busily absorbing the regional planning powers of the already soon to be dismantled Regional Assemblies. This could happen quite quickly and it is unclear exactly what the Tories would replace them with. Uncertainty would abound. Regional planning would be in a vacuum for some time. The planning process for large, more strategic projects would be affected.

3. New legislation – Standby for a Planning Bill, to address all the things the Conservatives hate about the current planning process. Inevitably, this would include much more public consultation, hopefully not as prescriptive as the new Canadian version.

4. Housing targets would be abolished – Again, another one of the few manifesto commitments the Tories have stated. How this system would work is still a little hazy but this would potentially load power onto many of the Conservative controlled local councils which have been fighting development, and housing development in particular, continually in the last few years. Eco-towns would be still born.

5. Infrastructure Planning Commission – This Labour construct would be dead. Quite quickly too. Large-scale strategic infrastructure development would be up in the air until any new system bedded down.

For our clients, much of this would be a horror story, particularly as in mid 2010 they are likely to still be climbing out of the current recession, and still believing that the existing system and the considerable opposition they face is already stacked against them.

Food for thought indeed.

Nick Keable is vice president for UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group, email or call +44 207 592 7050.

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