England to abandon urban growth boundaries?

In what may be one of the most significant moves in recent memory for urban planning, England’s PM Gordon Brown seems on the verge of abandoning the urban containment policies that have been a hallmark of English land-use planning since World War II. According to an article in the Times of London,

GORDON BROWN is preparing to sweep aside planning controls in villages and market towns to allow the biggest rural housebuilding programme for a generation. Local authorities are to be controversially ordered to adopt a relaxed approach to the building of new homes in areas where planning permission has traditionally been refused. The government has concluded that protecting the environment should no longer be the overriding consideration when decisions are made about whether to allow development in areas where locals are struggling to afford homes.

While it’s too early to tell what is sparking this bold move, growing housing unaffordability is clearly an important driver of these changes.

The changes are aimed at helping the government to achieve its target of building 3m new homes by 2020. All the main political parties agree that the extra housing is needed, although the building programme is likely to be delayed by the recession. About 16,000 small towns, villages and hamlets across England, and dozens of market towns, could be affected by what is being described by ministers as a “fundamental shake-up” of rural planning policy.

England has some of the strictest planning laws in the world. The fact that these changes are supported by left leaning members of parliament and a labor government is probably telling–at some point, housing equity concerns trump special interests.