I read with interest your extensive coverage of the Government’s proposed changes to planning law (‘Professionals share their views on planning reform proposals’, Craven Herald, August 13). In it, you describe how Prime Minister Boris Johnson - ‘salesman-in-chief’, if you will - uses expressions such as ‘changes most radical since WWII’, ‘tear it down and start again’, ‘homes built quicker’ and ‘build and preserve beautiful communities’. To start with the last ‘bon mot’, most readers will realise that a community is made up not of buildings but of people. And town planners have a history of destroying such communities they now say they wish to ‘preserve’.

The proposals would be ‘radical’, they would be ‘new’ and they speak of ‘growth’, ‘protection’ and ‘renewal’. However, planners to date have spoken of the same, but as ‘development’, ‘conservation’ and ‘regeneration’. Radical? Well, I do see two ideas that may be ‘new’ to today’s planners: 1) ‘all new streets to be tree-lined’, and 2) a ‘national levy’ to be raised. As it happens, I was born in Bromley, London in 1953 in an inter-war semi, and guess what: the road was tree-lined on both sides. As for a ‘national levy’ replacing ‘developer contributions’, is that not more smoke and mirrors to say ‘take from the poorer to give to the richer’? Sound right-wing Tory policy.

In the early 70s, I was privileged to attend lectures at Sheffield University given by one Prof JR ‘Jimmy’ James, a former Chief Planner at the Ministry for Housing & Local Government. At the outset, Prof. James pointed out the main obstacle to effective planning: the Socialist government of the day decided not to include the nationalization of land – IMO correctly - in the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act. As a result planners seek to plan ‘with one hand tied behind their backs’. Government can promise the moon - ‘much-needed homes will be built quicker’ - but these days it is not the Government that builds homes but the private sector. And the private sector likes high prices. Nothing now proposed will alter that.

Finally, the Government would ‘tear [the planning system] down and start again’. In 2017, the Barrister Peter Dixon wrote a piece ‘Happy Birthday Town & Country Planning Act 1947‘ in which he stated, “Almost all of the main components of the current planning system are to be found in the 1947 Act and it is a credit to those involved that the essentials of the system as they were laid out in 1947 in the economic, political and social context of that time, have survived largely intact into the present day.” Personally, I prefer to listen to the practitioner rather than the politician. Planning is about resolving in the common interest conflicting demands regarding the use of land. There is no ‘perfect solution’, and without ownership of land central and local government will always struggle to reach a satisfactory outcome. But is not that struggle to find and establish a working consensus ‘the British way’ and none-the-worse for that?

Richard Sykes

10 Park View