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Wednesday, March 29, 2006
David Cameron's emerging agenda
David Cameron is very much in the news right now with his emerging views abou regeneration, housing and other related issues. Central is his assertion that housebuilding to solve social inequalities is the way forward, and those who oppose new development are "bananas" - people who want to 'Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone'.

"How can we bridge the widening gulf in our society between those who benefit from being on the property ladder and those who are kept off? This is a challenge that goes to the heart of the sort of society we want to build. For pressing reasons of social justice, and economic efficiency, Britain needs to spread the benefits of ownership more widely."

Ideas include rewards for areas that welcome new development (surely a strange sort of bribery?), changes to planning law to apparently 'build beauty in' to new housing (how on earth do you define beauty?), and environmental sustainability measures. He's also advocating new ways for communities to have a say in planning, apparently - another example of really leaping on a Labour policy which has been seen as generally unfulfilled despite the new community planning process that has been introduced.

Inevitably the likes of CPRE have 'urged' Cameron not to endorse a more liberal approach to planning and development, accusing him of portraying the planning system as an obstacle to development rather than the positive force that they consider it. I'm not really sure that's what he meant, but clearly the idea of deregulting development would be a very Tory idea even if he is dressing it up in new and community-minded clothes by saying things like "Our planning system doesn't give people a proper say in how their communities should grow organically."

Visiting various housing estates in London, he's also commented on the concept of 'designing out crime' (but haven't we had this concept around for years?) by advocating such nice little English features such as private front gardens and driveways. Hmmm. I remember living in Notting Hill for a while and everyone was rather scared of the front gardens, as it was in their dark bushes that the muggers would hide, waiting for the ealthy owners to return home and then attacking them as they were unlocking their doors. Unfortunately, design is just not that simple.

Like most of Cameron's ideas, none of this seems like news to me. I've yet to hear something genuinely radical. If he really meant what he says about community planning, of course it would be a good thing. But I'm sure his pronouncements are understood by the development sector as the invitation they are: a clear message that by backing him, they are going to get to build on more sites, make more money, and open up markets that are still inaccessible to them.

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