The (as yet still to be officially confirmed) appointment of Boris Johnson’s new housing and planning adviser, Jack Airey, is as big a steer as any that big changes could be on the horizon for the sector.
As we await the expected wide-ranging Cabinet reshuffle tomorrow, with potentially minimal casualties at MHCLG (although Esther McVey may disagree), the appointment of Jack Airey indicates that whilst senior personnel may remain, they could be facing high expectations to deliver real change from No.10.
The Head of Housing at think tank Policy Exchange, Airey was the co-author of the report: Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century. Calling for a ‘clean break’ from the existing system which has become lumbered with policy, the report advocates a series of dramatic recommendations including: zonal planning, a review of Green Belt protections and limiting the power of local politicians as decision makers. A punchy report to say the least.
Airey’s appointment gives strength to the suspicion that No. 10 is giving the recommendations of the report, amongst others, serious consideration.
The recommendations in the above report though brazen are not exactly new. They do however continue to shine a light on the problems that many who work in the sector will be all too familiar with, but what for political reasons have for too long been brushed under the carpet. It may seem a strong suggestion to remove politicians from the decision making process where Local Plans are in place, but it is not necessarily an unwarranted one, especially when we know how political decisions can often ignore the long-term view.
As Airey pointed out in an article in the Evening Standard in March last year, the Green Belt can go a long way towards delivering London’s housing needs, but it is politics and beauty that prevent this from being properly realised.
With the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission being borne out of Airey’s work at the Policy Exchange, beauty is a key theme of Airey’s thoughts on tackling the planning challenges. Both at Policy Exchange and think tank Localis, Airey has consistently advocated the importance of place and good design, particularly as tools to combat NIMBYISM.
So, what does this latest appointment tell us? It tells us that despite it being a painful process when they introduced the NPPF, the Government is not scared to contemplate another stab at radical change for the planning process, and that place lies at the heart of this next evolution.