Power to the communities threatens solutions to housing crisis, warns Downing St adviser

Devolution could fuel nimbyism, says Lord Young
  • @oliver_wright

David Cameron's drive to give more power to local communities is in danger of becoming a major obstacle to solving Britain's housing crisis, a senior Downing Street adviser has warned.

In controversial remarks Lord Young, who is the Prime Minister's small business adviser and has an office in Downing Street, said that the devolution of new powers to communities could fuel nimbyism.

And he warned that solving Britain's housing shortages was important not just to allow families to get on to the housing ladder but also to help business as well.

Speaking in an interview with the magazine Public Servant, Lord Young, who served in Thatcher's cabinet and is widely admired by the Prime Minister, said by giving those who opposed change greater influence they could block vital planning applications in their areas.

He said although the government had made a commitment to empowering communities by involving them in the development of local planning guidelines covering aspects such as housing provision it should be left to central government to decide on the implementation of housing policy, even at a local level.

"If we push too much power down too far then we are going to suffer the consequences," he said.

"If you believe in devolution then you make (housing construction) more difficult.

"If you give too much authority to a small area then you make it difficult to get planning permission for housing, and business premises are just the same."

Lord Young, who has helped to formulate the coalition's policy towards Small and Medium size companies, including the simplification of regulatory red tape, said that localism worked well in many ways, but that planning to meet future housing needs required a more strategic vision. He added this could supersede the views of minority groups, including local residents if necessary.

"It is possible that localism just isn't the answer for the housing problem, and it may be that housing is an area that should be left to central government, otherwise it is just going to be about specialist interests all the time.

"We need to have strategic vision which is capable of looking down on the issue."

It is not the first time Lord Young has spoken his mind in Government and embarrassed Mr Cameron. Shortly after being appointed a business adviser in 2010 he suggested the recession had left many people better off.

He added "people will wonder what all the fuss was about" when looking back at the Government's spending cuts, the deepest in more than 30 years. He added people would look back on the recession and "wonder what all the fuss was about".

No10 spokesman said: "The Labour Government's top-down Regional Strategies built nothing but resentment and saw house building fall to its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.

"Simplifying the planning system and giving people a greater say will help build more homes. Indeed, thanks to this Government's actions, house building has already risen to its highest level for five years."