i Editor's Letter: Relaxing planning procedures won't help the housing market


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The Independent Online


The good citizens of Richmond and Sutton are not natural rebels. Although suburban Sutton's council is Lib Dem-run, it rivals leafy, Conservative-held Richmond as a hotbed of small-c conservatism. I should know. My own secondary school was in that leafiest of suburbs, Purley, which fell under Sutton's education auspices. It was the kind of place where, when I escorted Status Quo's Francis Rossi as he toured the school with a view to sending his son there, other parents stared at his "shocking" (for Purley) pony-tail.

These councils are sensibly putting their respective feet down on one of the daftest of many daft policy-on-the-hoof pronouncements by our panicky Coalition.

When, via Eric Pickles, it proposed a three-year relaxation of planning procedures that restrict development on terraced houses beyond a 10ft-long single storey (13ft for detached houses), it was not hard to see the chaos that would ensue. The dread words "I'm planning an extension" are tantamount to a declaration of civil war as it is.

The justifications do not stack up. It is not planning that hinders the building trades, but the economy (stupid). The current "fill in form, wait for objections, discuss objections and resolve within eight weeks" system is less bureaucratic a process than, say, appealing against a parking fine.

Yet again, it's a simplistic, anti-red tape headline-grabber. The only people able to take advantage of it will be absent, multi-home-owning landlords. If we really want to get the housing and building markets going we would cajole reluctant banks to loan money to ordinary people. But that would be far too difficult. And, where are the headlines in that?