Many of our present economic difficulties are really different forms of the same problem: our sclerotic planning system. Time to do something about it, says Michael Gove

I almost thought Andrew Marr had me. I was on his Sunday AM programme trying to make the case against legislative hyperactivity, suggesting that sometimes it was better to implement the laws we already have, rather than pass more. “So then,” he asked, with all the feline grace of a practised assassin of political reputations, “you would presumably come to office and just do nothing – masterly inactivity?”

I paused for a millisecond. Into my head swam the image of Ronald Reagan and his famous injunction, “When faced with a problem, don’t just do something. Sit there.” The case for leaving well alone, for trying to avoid making things worse with clumsy interventions, has had some seductive advocates. And now Andrew was trying to beguile me into endorsing just that position.

But I resisted the temptation. Because I was being offered an inadequate response to what is, fundamentally, a false dichotomy. The answer to many of our problems is neither a frenzy of law making on the one hand nor benign inactivity on the other. For many of our biggest problems the right answer is calm analysis of the issues and then patient, determined, action to tackle the underlying causes. The issue Andrew had asked me about was knife crime and my strong conviction was that, whatever the merits of any proposed law, the real answer to violence and disorder lay in tackling social breakdown and its many-faceted, deep-rooted causes.

But it’s not just on chronic problems like crime that this more measured and calm approach serves us well. Our economy is facing some acute pain at the moment, and the construction sector is among those suffering the most. The temptation is to demand instant action. When faced with a credit crunch, a dive in demand, a precipitate fall in completions and real trouble for trusted names like Barratt, then all of us want to see the pain alleviated.

And there are measures the government can take now. Including, as I’ve argued before, easing the stamp duty burden for first-time buyers. But the real problems we have in the economy, and in the housing and construction sector, run deep. And they require a considered, long-term response.

Some of what we need to do has been well advertised, from exercising more prudence in public spending during good years to modernising banking regulation to help avoid borrowing problems. But there’s more we can do to put our economy on a path to higher, more sustainable, growth.

Into my head swam the image of Ronald Reagan and his famous injunction, ‘When faced with a problem, don’t just do something. Sit there’

A proper economic policy isn’t just about tax and spend, and it goes beyond financial regulation. A modern economic policy embraces, among other issues, education reform, transport and, crucially, planning.

If our economy is to be truly resilient, if we’re to have more individuals with the means to be able to ride out the rough patches, we need to develop a more highly educated and skilled workforce. If we’re to ensure that companies face the lowest possible cost burden and can maximise their market reach we need a transport policy oriented towards growth. And behind everything there needs to be a recognition that our current overly bureaucratic and time-consuming planning process is adding massive costs to business and makes the housing market less accessible to new entrants and more volatile for us all.

The costs of negotiating the planning process add to the price of new homes, and they also price out new entrants. The smaller, artisan builders who’re such a feature of the Continental housing market are rarer here because the whole planning maze is so costly to navigate that the teams of experts you need are increasingly only available to the volume builders.

And it’s not just housebuilders who suffer. Industry, from retail to manufacturing, agriculture to leisure, also pays the price in money and time spent dealing with planning.

Delivering a planning policy won’t be easy. Wading through the regulation and directives to develop a leaner, more responsive, more flexible approach requires time and care. Which is why we’re investing both now to get things right. Because if we do come up with the right framework we can get individuals, capital, and land working more efficiently, in everyone’s interests. It’s neither glamorous nor headline-grabbing and I don’t think Andrew Marr will be clearing the Sunday morning schedules to discuss it, but get land use planning right and otherwise unemployed citizens and underused assets won’t just be sitting there, they’ll be doing something.