Transcript of: ‘A brave new voluntary world’ presented by Shaun Spiers, CPRE
I will talk about the Government’s proposed planning reforms, then a little about CPRE’s engagement with AONBs.
I make no apology for dwelling on planning, because the Government is currently engaged in the biggest shake-up of planning policy since the modern planning system was introduced in 1947.
From a historical perspective, this shake-up is probably long overdue. The nationalisation of development rights was part of the post-war settlement, along with the nationalisation of health provision and of some heavy industries. In a sense, it is amazing that it has survived so long. Even in the context of the post-war consensus on constraining free markets and giving a larger role to the state, the introduction of the planning system was controversial and distinctly un-Tory.
The Cabinet discussed the subject towards the end of the war, when Churchill made what is, as far as I know, his only recorded contribution to planning theory. ‘Ah, yes,’ he said. ‘All this stuff about planning and compensation and betterment. Broad vistas and all that. But give to me the eighteenth-century alley, where footpads lurk, and the harlot plies her trade, and none of this new fangled planning doctrine.’
The planning system survived such scepticism, and even more surprisingly it broadly survived assaults by a succession of free market ideologues in the governments since 1979.
It did so because it worked. (It certainly worked for Churchill, protecting his views from Chartwell of the Weald of Kent and the North Downs.) I recently read Francis Pryor’s massive book, The Making of the British Landscape, and after several millennia and several hundred pages came across this passage:
‘Even though nearly everyone lives or works in a town or city, somehow Britain has managed to retain its uncluttered rural areas. We take these things for granted, but I consider them a huge achievement. I never thought I would be singing the praises of unassuming bureaucrats in town halls up and down the country, but it is almost entirely down to planning. Town and country planning … is now the single most important factor affecting the look of Britain. And we meddle with it at our peril!’
The Government’s reforms go far beyond meddling. The title I have been given for my talk, ‘a brave new voluntary world’, refers I think to the narrative coming from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the run up to the election and in the Coalition’s first year. This did indeed suggest that a brave new world of local and voluntary decision-making on land use was coming. (more…)