A bluffer’s guide to … Kate Barker

Q: Who is Kate Barker and why is everybody talking about her?

A: Barker is the superbrain economist who Gordon Brown has asked to look at the planning system – everybody’s favourite bête noire. Her interim report came out last week.

She is best known for rebranding the much hated development tax as a “planning gain supplement” in her previous review of housing supply, reigniting the debate on its merits.

Q: Sounds like a fun lady. What’s her verdict on the planning system?

A: Unlike Brown, Barker thinks it’s too soon for more legislation after 2004’s Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. But she does believe that some reform is necessary and it’s not only the chancellor she’s taking on. Environmentalists were dismayed by her conclusion that the UK is twice as protected from development as other developed countries and that restrictions on out-of-town and greenfield development are unbalancing the economy in favour of larger firms.

Q: Everyone’s always griping about planning – will anyone take any notice now?

A: Hopefully, yes. The Treasury is very serious about reforming the system for the good of the economy, especially with all the billions of pounds it’s spending on housebuilding. Judging by previous form though, we may be waiting a while to see any actual change. Barker’s report into housing demand and supply came out in March 2004, and the only policy development so far is the recently published consultation on the planning gain supplement.

Q: But what should I say about her?

A: Whatever you think about the land tax, sorry, supplement or her views on out-of-town development, you can’t deny her credentials – Barker is renowned for her thorough and logical approach and enjoyed unprecedented co-operation from housebuilders last time. A review of the planning system is certainly long overdue, so you’re looking forward to hearing more of her ideas when she publishes the full report later this year. Unless you’re an environmentalist, of course, in which case you’re getting ready for a fight.