Thursday, 14 May 2015

Reasons to be cheerful?

There will be many in Kent who will have welcomed the news Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, is now the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, replacing Eric Pickles.

The good news is Greg Clark has a track record in the planning and development arena, having been the minister for decentralisation and planning minister between 2010 and 2012 driving through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – arguably the biggest single change to the planning system in many years.

What might concern some in the development community is that he led on the Localism Act, which has arguably resulted in greater local opposition to development. 

On a more positive note, he’s really pushed for the dualling improvement to the A21 so he clearly recognises the importance of infrastructure to the economy of a town.

Most recently he was minister for universities and science, and heavily involved in a number of the City Deals done between the government, Local Enterprise Partnerships and major cities, so he does understand the bigger picture.

Greg Clark’s in-tray will also include helping the Conservatives deliver on their manifesto pledge to build 200,000 new homes a year, while at the same time acknowledging the frequent local opposition to development. 

A more challenging item on his to-do list might be the Conservative pledge to extend the right to buy to 1.3m housing association tenants, which will undoubtedly be vehemently opposed by the associations. 

He’ll also have to tackle the issue of onshore renewable energy projects, many of which face opposition from residents brandishing a copy of the Localism Act.

And he’s got to deliver on all these challenges at a time when local planning departments across the country continue to be under-resourced and with many councils not having an NPPF-compliant Local Plan.

One thing is certain – and something we can all welcome – when it comes to his style of government, he’s not a bluff bruiser like Eric Pickles, he’s far more considered – well he would be wouldn't he, he’s the MP for Tunbridge Wells.

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