1. Roger Scruton, 'Planning reforms: Must England's beauty perish, Mr Cameron?', The Telegraph, 8 September 2011, posted on www.telegraph.co.uk
2. Alex Morton, Why Aren't We Building Enough Attractive Homes? - Myths, misunderstandings and solutions, London, Policy Exchange, September 2012, p 4, posted here
3. Alex Morton, replying to an email from Ian Abley, 13 September 2012
Wrong! - Policy Exchange misunderstands planning
I really don't know whose ideas are worse; Conservative thinker Roger Scruton's green philosophical defence of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, or Policy Exchange's reform propaganda, with their daft characteristation of a "socialist" British planning system supposedly stuck in the 1940s. Blue-Green morality versus scaremongering about "Reds".
During the recent furore about the National Planning Policy Framework, Roger Scruton wrote in The Telegraph, '... there are few success stories in environmental politics. But the 1947 Act is one of them. And its success is due to one fact above all, which is that it removes the default position from the developer.' The planning law still in force today is precisely a national denial of development rights. What bothered Scruton was that '... the Government justifies its new proposals as instruments of economic growth. The 1947 Act has certainly been an obstacle to economic growth.' Policy Exchange agrees with him on that, but not with his environmentalist conclusion; 'Thank God for obstacles to economic growth.' (1) Policy Exchange desperately wants economic growth.
For Alex Morton, the youthful Senior Research Fellow for Housing and Planning at Policy Exchange, '... the 1940s system is "socialist" as it requires councils create a "socially optimal" plan then impose it on everyone. But we know in reality such changes impose clear costs and benefits on specific individual existing residents.' (2) Seeing this as nonsense I wrote to Morton on 13 September 2012, suggesting the obvious, that the existing planning system was capitalist rather than socialist. He wrote back, a bit huffed, declaring '... the current system is nothing to do with capitalism. Possibly corporatism (the use of state power to enrich a small business elite through involuntary confiscation of property rights), definitely socialism (at least in original intent given how land uplift was originally to be taken by the state).' (3) This is a myth from the "myth-buster" think-tank.
Superficially Policy Exchange seems to be against the 1947 planning law that Scruton thanks God for. While a close reading of their numerous reports shows that Policy Exchange are definitely not calling for a repeal of the denial of development rights in that key piece of legislation.
However both these forces of British conservatism, Scruton and Policy Exchange, either don't understand or deliberately ignore the fact that the 1947 Act is essential today for The City to secure their vast capital fund in £1,200,000,000,000 of live mortgage lending. The planning system is not "socialist". It is capitalist through and through. While Scruton may be quite happy to see the planning law as a defence of pre-capitalist patterns of land ownership, it is amazing that Policy Exchange are banging on about a plot against capitalist development perpetrated by elected Local Planning Authorities. They seem to have lost grip of reality.
Scruton and Policy Exchange are supposed to be the best brains behind the Conservative Party. They don't appear to have a clue about the predicament that British capitalism is presently in over planning and the building of housing for a growing population. Opposition to industry, in Scruton's case, or the playing with policy words in the case of Policy Exchange, will heighten the predicament. It will not end well.
The following short discussion paper for the 250 New Towns Club looks in some detail at how Policy Exchange misunderstands the planning system today. A system innovated by the 1940s wartime coalition government. A legal innovation that negated calls for the nationalisation of the property of land, and which Prime Minister Winston Churchill had ensured was compatible with commercial development by 1954:
If you like this argument you might like the 250 New Towns Club.
Roger Scruton talks up Green Philosophy at the Conservative Party's favourite "think tank" Policy Exchange
I would like nothing better than to see a British government repeal the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act and make it possible for everyone in principle to build on redundant farmland, as was done in practice on "plotlands" across the South East in particular during the inter-war years.
Low density suburbia would "sprawl" to great social effect if the 1947 planning law were repealed. House prices would fall and building activity would boom. New settlements would be created in the process.
However I am also convinced that no British government devoted to capitalism in this country will ever repeal the 1947 planning law unless they had some substitute means of sustaining the inflated housing market on which so much debt and financial interest depends. The capitalist State needs security in the enormous mortgage market. They have that thanks only to the planning system, sustaining an artificial scarcity in developable land, leaving much land redundant and low value.
What are Scruton and Policy Exchange so very scared of? The answer is that they fear sections of the workforce, presently contained in the highly over-priced urban, might find the means to get hold of a lot more of the rural within an easy commute of employment, and set up residence.
But I'm willing to be proved wrong.
Ian Abley 20.09.2012
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