Out of Control Policy Blog

Let's Scrap UK Land Use Planning

A call for market-oriented planning in the U.K., via the Sunday Times:

    But alarm has been the sole response to Government plans, unveiled last month, to make planning more responsive to housing demand. Frankly, it would be hard to dream up a system less responsive to housing demand than the current planning laws.

    Anyone who has tried to get a building project approved will know how slow, expensive and often corrupt the set-up is. Planning is the legacy of the postwar Town and Country Planning Act, which tried to do to home building what the Attlee Government was also trying with coal, steel and other industries: control them from above. But, unlike those dinosaurs, planning has never been reformed, and it remains more like a vast, sclerotic, nationalised industry than anything else. Even John Prescott has been unable to break the logjam. Despite his threatening year after year to swamp the Thames Gateway and Bedfordshire with Barratt homes, the big build remains stubbornly unbuilt.

    People think that if you got rid of government planning you would have anarchy. But that's not how things work in other parts of the economy. Prices allow a much more sophisticated level of co-ordination, in which demand for houses, offices and open spaces are all stirred into the mix. Do you live in an area with lots of attractive Victorian homes, where buildings that are out of character would damage the appeal? So club together with your neighbours, sign a restrictive covenant that bans everyone in the group from making changes, and watch the market response. Everyone in the group should see their house price rise, because each house becomes more valuable in an area guaranteed to stay attractive.

    Having said all of that, I'm not against planning. Planning a town, working out how to mix homes, infrastructure and open spaces, is difficult, but not impossible. The problem is that there is only ever one planner - the Government. To scrap state planning would bring about a renaissance in a forgotten world from a century ago, when private corporations bought land speculatively and created garden cities and suburbs, many with restrictive covenants to keep them from decline. Competition between planners - something the current system lacks - drove up standards of design.

Read the whole thing. This piece is a gold mine of excellent points that translate well across the pond -- from the burdensome nature of the development approval process, to the coordinating role played by prices in a free market, to the need to return to the pre-central planning days of privately developed neighborhoods with restricive convenants, etc.

(Via The Commons)

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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