Planning Reform - Tarnished Before It Is Unveiled?

When it comes to spinning, the Cameron government has a lot to learn from its Labour predecessors - Alastair Campbell would not have allowed the Budget to have been defined by ‘granny taxes‘ and might well have handled cash-for-access better.

The problem for the Coalition now is that this ‘pro-rich, pro-rich-friends’ image, irrespective of its accuracy, may undermine the veracity of its planning reforms.

You don’t have to research far to see how today’s new planning regime might be seen not as a constructive blueprint to allow Britain’s infrastructure to modernise, nor as a route to build more homes, but instead as a payback for those who fund the Conservatives.

The Daily Telegraph has shown that in the first 15 months since the general election - the latest figures available - senior property industry figures had 28 official meeting with the government over planning reform, while environmental groups had only 11 such meetings.

The paper has also reported of meetings with developers and property industry figures who have personally contributed to the Conservative party: one such house builder was even represented by a public relations agency which had contributed to the Tory party.

That is aside from the extensive involvement of house buildera and other property industry individuals in the formulation of the Conservative Party 2010 manifesto. More Telegraph research shows the Conservative Planning Forum raising up to £150,000 a year for the party, including charging members £2,500 to meet senior MPs - a bargain in contrast to the figures we have seen recently, one might say.

Labour was scarcely better in government: close links between that party and the property industry were forged, despite historical antagonism, and few doubt that several house builders and estate agents did extremely well out of the proliferation of apartments that Labour’s high-density brownfield planning regime engineered.

Of course none of this activity by either party was in any way illegal; it is also hard to draw a firm line between lobbying and offering genuine expertise. But paying money to a particular party does make the relationship open to misinterpretation and cynicism.

When you see a ‘pro development’ policy emerging after the ‘pro development’ lobby hands over cash, you may end up quoting former Conservative leader Michael Howard, still echoed by some veteran members of his party: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

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