The impact of Conservatives on planning in the UK – Lesson 1

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(The first in a series of posts focusing on the impact on the UK development industry of an incoming Conservative Government)

David CameronBy Nick Keable,
Vice President, UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group

Let’s be clear: on current poll trends, there will be a Conservative Government on – most likely – 6th May 2010 in the UK.  Now don’t trust the media hype, it will not be a landslide victory.  The Tories will have only a slender majority.  Right now they are sitting at around 40% in the polls.  Tony Blair’s Labour Party was, at this stage in the election cycle before the 1997 General Election, sitting at around 60%. 

2010 will not be a 1997 moment, which psephologists will study for many years to come.  But the likelihood is that the Tories will win.  So how will things change for the development industry?

Well, first, let’s just remind ourselves that the overwhelming majority of planning applications are consented or refused by local government.  Here the picture has already changed, as the accompanying graphic 

political balance

clearly demonstrates (Political Balance) .  Having briefly slipped into third place in local government, behind Labour and the Lib Dems, during the dark days of John Major’s premiership, the Tories are now easily the front runners in local government.  They control 50% of local councils compared to Labour’s 10% and the Lib Dems’ 6%. 

In May next year, in the concurrent local elections, most likely Labour will slip into third place in raw numbers of elected councillors in local government.  Right now, in town halls across the country, the Tories are back to the high of Thatcherism in the early 1980s.

But let’s remind ourselves of one stark, cold, ugly fact: the ‘new’ Conservative Party is not the friend of the development industry it once was.  The old description of the Tories as ‘the party of business’ should be updated to ‘the party of opposition’.  Local Tories are at the forefront of NIMBYism in the UK.  They have fought residential development for years and are the main culprits in fighting wind farms right now, despite the fact they claim to be ‘green’ and in favour of renewable energy.

And there’s more bad news: the 150-300 or so Tories who will be hoping to win their first Parliamentary seat in 2010 are right now either councillors on local councils or candidates running campaigns … opposing new development all over the country.  So the Tory Party that will be in control of the House of Commons in 2010 will be very negative towards development.

And all that is before we get to the emerging planning policy which is beginning to shape up in Tory minds … about which lesson 2 will opine next week.

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

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