Latest from Ben Gummer

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. Snappy, isn’t it?  And a wonder of legislation it is too.  Don’t put it down, because I am particularly fond of this little number.  Here’s why.

There were two acts of the post-war Attlee government that have really changed our country and stood the test of time.  One, the creation of the National Health Service, is famous.  The other is less well known but has had more of a visual impact on our lives than any law passed in our modern democracy: Town and Country Planning Act of 1947.  This act effectively nationalised the right to develop land – constituting the largest encroachment on traditional British liberties the state has ever attempted.  The philosophical argument as to whether this is a good or bad thing is an interesting one but I shall not upset the end of your week by indulging in it now.  The important point to note is that if you own land, your right to develop it now rests not with you but ultimately with the planning committee of your local district council, with a right of appeal to the Secretary of State himself.  For good or for ill, this is state control of your assets.

Since 1947, planning law has become one of the most complex and convoluted areas of how our lives are regulated.  The high tide came towards the end of the last decade, when centrally decided housing targets got pushed down onto local authorities who then allocated land for housing, whether the owners liked it or not.  I remember defending the back gardens of people living in Clapgate Lane as a candidate, eight years ago (is it really that long!?): their long gardens, if knocked together, could accommodate a few more houses squeezed in.  No one asked them if they actually wanted to sell or develop – but then that was the way of the times.

The reach of the town hall could be seen on the high street too, where planning officers would decide whether a shop should be a bank or a bookies.  One constituent, a few years ago, wanted to open a restaurant in Tavern Street, only to be told by the planners that eateries were not allowed in that street – only clothes shops and other so-called ‘comparison goods’.  It was a bizarre denial of the market, where council officers – no doubt well intentioned – knew better than the businesspeople willing to take a punt.

The good news is that we have begun to roll some of this nonsense back, which is where our wondrous Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 comes in.  This nifty bit of (de)regulation permits people who own buildings previously used for businesses to turn them into houses.  Now, before, this would have required planning permission and ‘change of use’ and lah de dah de dah…  With our new order, you can now just do it.  And the result is some great new homes, with people already moving in, across our town.  A few months ago, I went to see some, in the old Eastgate Centre tower in Carr Street, which are now very swanky starter flats being sold under the Help to Buy scheme.  At the other end of the town centre, that worst eyesore of Ipswich – the half-demolished ‘60s block on the corner of St Matthew’s and Berners streets – has been impressively improved with a Battle of the Atlantic-style grey pattern makeover and the top floors converted into nice flats.

All of which means – new homes for people wanting somewhere to live.  See how a little laws can do great things?

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