Planning laws part 2: Tories prepare for civil war again
Cameron and Osborne hope relaxing planning laws will drag UK out of recession - but we've been here before
PRIME MINISTER David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne have launched a fightback aimed at dragging the UK economy out of recession, at the heart of which is another brave - or foolhardy - attempt to shake up Britain's planning laws.
George Osborne said on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday that the coalition is to introduce a new Economy Bill that will allow building on green belt land and place restrictions on residents' rights to make legal protests against development.
Osborne said he would encourage local councils to use existing laws that allow them to earmark some slices of green belt land for development as long as other land is brought into the green belt.
Another piece of legislation, the Infrastructure Bill, will allow the government to use its record low borrowing costs to underwrite £40bn worth of private investment in major construction projects.
To qualify for funding, the BBC reports, the projects must be "nationally significant", "good value" for taxpayers and ready to start construction within 12 months.
This last requirement would appear to rule out funding for two grassroots Tory bugbears, the Heathrow third runway and HS2, the high speed railway that would cut a swathe through rural Conservative constituencies. Despite this, Osborne refused to rule out a third runway when pressed on it by Marr yesterday.
The Bills are to be fast-tracked and the government hopes they will be law by October.
David Cameron reinforced the Chancellor's message with a comment piece in the Mail on Sunday yesterday, in which he wrote: "A key part of recovery is building the houses our people need, but a familiar cry goes up, 'Yes, we want more housing; but no to every development - and not in my back yard.'
"The nations we're competing against don't stand for this kind of paralysis and neither must we."
The details of the Bills are likely to prove controversial among Conservatives and Lib Dems. "Planning policy was thought to be a settled issue after the government backed down on plans to loosen planning rules earlier this year following a campaign by the National Trust," notes The Guardian.
The Mail points out that Conservative Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Lib Dem Deputy PM Nick Clegg are warning there will be a public backlash at the proposals to loosen planning laws. Pickles wants more done to encourage the development of 'brownfield' sites in towns.
Shaun Spiers of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: "It is vital that the Government ensures we have smart growth, which focuses investment and development within existing urban areas, rather than permitting the unnecessary loss of green belt."
Environmentalist George Monbiot said on Twitter: "Osborne's only strategy for tackling recession is more infrastructure. How much more can this small country take?
"The more you build, the more you need. At what point do we say 'enough': Britain has enough concrete already?"
The Daily Telegraph, a prominent voice in the campaign earlier this year against planning law reform, appears to be preparing to do battle again.
Paul Goodman, the editor of ConservativeHome, writes in the paper that Cameron has "flung down the gauntlet to much of Middle England, especially in the South East, and therefore to much of his own party".
He believes Cameron is doomed to failure. "Either backbench and public pressure will, as before, compel him to back down. Or else he will press ahead - and the plan will fail anyway, as centralist plans have failed before.
"Either way, the Prime Minister seems to be determined to pick a fight that wins him little and costs him much."
However, the London Evening Standard welcomed Osborne's plan for growth - although warning that he would not necessarily reap an electoral dividend.
"Infrastructure projects of major national significance cannot be held up by endless planning battles and the like," says the paper in an editorial.
"Britain risks getting left behind if they do. Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne will not get an immediate economic lift by fighting such battles now - but they will be doing the right thing for the national interest." ·