Will new planning guidance shepherd Britain back to work?

Will new planning guidance help Britain get back to work? by Colin Crooks

Today the government will announce its simplification of the planning system.  There will rightly be a huge debate about whether or not our most precious landscapes will be put under more development pressure.  There will be another debate about the place of the high street in our national daily life.

One issue, perhaps the biggest single issue that we face as a society, will be strangely absent.  There will be no comment at all, I suspect, on whether these new rules will help the long–term unemployed or the workless in our society.

The driver for these changes is a flawed and over simplistic analysis of our international competitiveness.  As a result, the policy is likely to encourage investments that produce little or no benefit to our competitiveness abroad and actually divert investment from the people and communities who most need it.


Proponents of the international competitiveness argument tell us that theUKis too expensive and cannot compete.  Partly they tell us, this is due to high land values caused by planning constraints that restrict development of green field land.  However, as Adair Turner points out in his book “Just Capital” people in advanced western economies consume an increasing proportion of their income on labour intensive services and that  the wealth generated from exports reduces as a proportion of national income.  In simple terms, you cannot export a haircut and you cannot import a hedge trimming service.

And when it comes to exports, the elements that have the most value are the intellectual creativity and the engineering skill.  These are not dependent on the cost of land but rather on the quality of the workforces’ education and the intellectual atmosphere in which people work.

This distorted view of competitiveness seems to be supported in the new planning rules. It will lead us to an increase in green field development for services that are not exposed to international competition.  Yes, it may allow out of town retailers to reduce their costs, but who will benefit from that – the consumer?  the environment?

All the while, that green field investment opportunities are preferred the people who need investment most will be left behind.  The vast majority of the millions of our unemployed people live in the inner cities.  The brownfield areas are the places that require investment.  By investments, I do not mean shiny new retail parks that simply displace employment from the high street.  Brownfield areas require investments in businesses that can create new jobs that are in tune with the skills and talents of the people who live there.  Jobs in businesses that provide real services that local people need and want.

Unfortunately, such bread and butter concerns are very far from the priorities of those who shout for greater flexibility and the removal of restrictions in the name of international competitiveness.