The report of the moment and the subject of much heated debate in the Commons is the Government ordered ‘No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth’ by former Tory Deputy PM Lord Heseltine. The report lays out 89 suggestions for generating growth within the UK economy and inevitably emphasises the UK planning system and construction policy as key areas of improvement.
Lord Heseltine, who reached his political peak in John Major’s Government as Deputy Prime Minister and beforehand rose to prominence as the man who challenged Margaret Thatcher for the Conservative Party leadership in 1990, spent six months compiling his report on the orders of Chancellor George Osborne. This is despite the fact that they are actually proponents of two significantly different economic schools of thought – interventionism and free marketeering respectively – making Osborne’s move a politically dangerous one.
Nevertheless, Lord Heseltine did lend some support to the Government and claimed at the end of the report that they were on the right track. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement, however, and, most importantly for the property and construction industry, Heseltine focused in on the newly reformed planning system. He states that, despite the changes (outlined in our previous articles here and here), there is still a long way to go before the planning process is efficient enough to boost growth.
Heseltine stated: “There is simply no sense of urgency or any understanding of the economic cost of delays. The appeals system adds more time to the process. Nowhere else can the pedestrian speed of decision making in this country – and its effects – be more damaging than in planning.”
His suggested solution is that any planning decisions that are not made after six months should be automatically referred to the Planning Inspectorate who, under the powers granted them by Schedule 6 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning (Determination of Appeals by Appointed Persons) (Prescribed Classes) Regulations 1997, are already able to decide finally upon appeals regarding planning matters.
The report goes on to say that Local Enterprise Partnerships should develop their own tailored local economic plans and be responsible for distributing £49 billion of public spending to support jobs, infrastructure and housing.
Heseltine comments: “Much more of the inspiration for our economy should be based on the strength and ambition of our cities and their communities. It was this local leadership that built our country in the first place.”
At the moment, Lord Heseltine added, LEPs do not currently have “the authority or resources to transform their locality in the way our economy needs” and he published his report symbolically from Birmingham, not the capital.
On a national level, he believes that the government should show greater leadership in promoting major infrastructure projects and advocates the creation of a national growth council; chaired by the Prime Minister and with a cross-government focus.
The report was only published on 31st October so it is as yet unclear how far the Government will implement, if at all, Lord Heseltine’s 89 suggestions. Nevertheless, both the Coalition and Labour opposition have declared support for various sections of the report, resulting in the likelihood that Lord Heseltine, 11 years after retiring as an MP, could once again be one of the driving forces behind UK economic policy in the next few years.