Jon Rouse sensibly sees the pursuit of consensus through interminable consultation as a failure of nerve among those politically or professionally charged with planning (30 September). This serves as an apology from the man who established the corrosive influence of the unelected CABE.
He wants clear leadership in development. Good. So will we see Rouse consolidating the Housing Corporation’s multiplied purchasing power into a few spacious, high-performance and architecturally simple housing typologies, delivered through a minimal number of consultants?
To begin with, he needs to abandon a basic misconception. Post-war public sector planning was not born out of respect for private property rights, but was a way of stopping the lower-middle and working classes from buying a plot of redundant freehold farmland and building on it. Such “bungaloid growth” had emerged as a trend in the 1930s, but nationalisation of development rights in 1947 killed off the private sector makers of “kit homes”. The government briefly pursued emergency prefabs, before turning to masonry and large-panel building as council housing until the welfare state became exhausted in the late 1960s. By this time, public consultation had become an increasing policy concern. Denied the freedom to build on their own land, the public were invited back into a development control process that, to this day, is primarily an attempt to sustain property market speculation.
Rouse, as the man responsible for delivering 30,000 homes a year, might call for a return of development rights to all freeholders. That would cut consultation down to size and free up low-cost land supply, but he is unlikely to go that far. He will struggle to call for planning to be based on pre-approved Housing Corporation house and flat types in designated growth areas. If he managed to get that streamlining of planning approval combined with land release, every developer would want the same privileges.
In which case, his paymaster Gordon Brown would find controlling house price inflation much harder. But Rouse could be enough of a leader not to let that worry him.
Ian Abley, www.audacity.org