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Changes in strategic planning: a serious threat to the UK economy

The internal politics of the Conservative Party, backbench lobbying, and the threat of revolts has pressurised the Government into remove those key policy mechanics in the current system that lead to planning permissions for housing developments being granted, often via appeal, following local-level refusal.

The mechanics of strategic planning – specifically the Standard Method, Five Year Housing Land Supply and the Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development are now under theat.

There is a longstanding and fundamental tension between the national interest of seeing 300,000 homes built a year, and localised resistance to new housing.

What’s different now, is that previously Conservative-controlled councils in the southeast have gradually fallen to Lib Dem or Independent control as a result of concerns about housing development. Conservative MPs fear that this trend will manifest itself in the loss of formerly safe Home County constituencies at the next General Election and as a result, the Government has caved into pressures from backbench MPs.

With the loss of these fundamental elements of the strategic planning system, annual new housing completions could fall dramatically. This could result in widespread socio-economic consequences and worsen intergenerational inequality. The economy could also enter into a deeper recession, as construction represents around 7% of UK GDP. Unemployment could also increase significantly, as construction remains a labour-intensive industry, and much of what remains of UK manufacturing-base is linked to construction.

The lack of a clear strategy raises some alarm about the year ahead. Beyond that, the strong possibility of a Labour Government or the formation of a centre-left coalition following the next general election suggests that the next major opportunity for proactive and constructive planning reform will have a very different flavour and emphasis.

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