Planning remains a hot topic as the localism/environmental struggle continues, and Building sheds some light on the ONS figures

Another week has seen another set of tensions between the government’s localism and environmental agenda, and the dire need to spur economic growth to reduce the deficit. The mainstream news has been full of the spat between different bits of government over whether to keep to agreed targets on carbon emissions - a vital debate for the planned investment in low-carbon infrastructure that contractors are hoping to benefit from.

This tension is played out in all parts of the government - but nowhere more so than in the planning arena. Developers were outraged when communities secretary Eric Pickles attempted to abolish regional plans last year. But continuing fears over the impact of greater local decision-making may obscure the fact that the government is now working hard to make all other policy line up in favour of developers.

With no money to spend, the only real option to stimulate economic growth is by reducing regulation

Next week, localism minister Greg Clark will herald a number of pilots of business-led planning areas, where developers and occupiers will potentially get to decide what development happens, and where. At the same time, housing minister Grant Shapps has said he will consult on guaranteeing planning decisions within 12 months and confirmed Building’s prediction he will abandon his proposed “local standards framework”, which would have set local development standards, after builders raised fears it would hinder development. Then there are the plans to introduce a presumption in favour of development, plans to cut the thousands of pages of planning law and guidance into one document, and to introduce financial incentives to councils to approve new homes.

The logic behind the coalition’s moves is obvious - with no money to spend, the only real option to stimulate economic growth is by reducing regulation. However, what it will all add up to is still far from clear. The boss of the Home Builders Federation this week told Shapps that councils will need many more carrots than just the New Homes Bonus to allow more homes to be built. The truth is that most housebuilders are still pessimistic about the changes to planning. The industry needs to be prepared to give credit if the government keeps its promises on deregulation. We’ll be watching.

Joey Gardiner, assistant editor

Figure it out

As the fallout from the disputed Office for National Statistics figures for construction continues, Building has made its own attempt at providing an accurate picture of the state of the industry’s health. The data presented here backs up what construction leaders have been insisting: the reality is a far cry from the 5%decline that the ONS claimed took place in the first quarter. So the case for the ONS to change its methodology is a powerful one. As Michael Ankers, the head of the Construction Products Association, has pointed out in a letter to the chancellor, the inaccurate statistics stifle the industry’s ability to make strategic decisions or indeed to help drive wider economic recovery. On top of that, the flawed figures affect GDP and have implications for wider economic and political decision-making. There needs to be a change - and quickly.