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Planning – at least we can all agree it’s broken

29th November 2023

Following this week’s Autumn Statement, senior director Ricky Ambury reflects on absent planning reform

There was a mix of surprise and consternation when planning reform was absent from the key speeches at the Tory party conference in Manchester last month. This was compounded a week later after Labour’s conference, at which it put reform and a bold pledge to ramp up housebuilding at the heart of its economic plan. 

Jeremy Hunt tried to regain the initiative in this week’s Autumn Statement. But none of his tinkering really lived up to the hopes for bold changes harboured by most in the property sector, especially among house builders. That his measures came with an admission that the system isn’t working and needs changing if we’re to boost economic growth felt all the more frustrating. It has received a lukewarm reception from the industry as a result. 

With an election looming ever more clearly on the horizon, perhaps as soon as next spring if some Westminster politicos are to be believed, there is every chance that the Conservatives will build on the measures unveiled this week.

But then again, maybe not. Much of what Rishi Sunak has signalled so far about his possible re-election strategy, such as the appointment of Tory centrist poster boy Lord Cameron to his Cabinet, is that he cares a great deal about losing ground to the Lib Dems in the Blue Wall seats. Here, the tanks Ed Davey has parked on his lawn are targeting NIMBY attitudes to local development. 

It’s also worth reflecting on the fact that there have been 16 different housing ministers in the 13 years of Conservative government. Seven have come in the last two years alone.

Before this Wednesday it felt as if the housebuilding sector was turning on the Tories, signalled most recently by a brilliant op-ed from Sir James Wates in last week’s Sunday Times. He’s not alone – Redrow founder and former Conservative donor Steve Morgan has also been outspoken. I’d wager that neither will have had their minds changed this week.

For the time being at least, it feels as if the Conservatives will struggle to appease both their core vote in the South of England and a traditionally supportive industry (and donor base) pushing for more radical changes.

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