As we approach July 4th, a pivotal debate in the post-election landscape is gaining momentum. This debate, highlighted by the Federation of Master Builders in this week's blog, is critical for our sector and all industries intricately linked to property development: the reform of the UK planning system.

People looking at the campaigns with vested interests in these reforms will have noticed one thing over the last few weeks: a complete lack of detail in the policies; all parties are acutely aware of the incredibly contentious nature of the subject, it's much easier to campaign on an ideology rather than a spreadsheet, and as soon as the nuance of a plan is exposed it will become an alienating factor for those asked to sacrifice so others can gain. One thing that will be made clear in the coming months is the sector wants sensible reform; it's not asking to pulverize our shared heritage; it's asking to pulverize our Victorian-era processes.

One great example of this was a story the BBC ran this week about how the plans to pull down the remains of a WW2 prison camp to build housing at Kirk Deighton in North Yorkshire. Without delving too much into the history (although we advise you to do it on your own time), it's a fascinating piece of local heritage, a facility initially housing Italian prisoners of war captured during the Allies' campaign in North Africa in 1941. Life in Camp 53 involved a strict daily regimen, with prisoners engaged in various tasks, agricultural work, and maintaining camp facilities. Despite the harsh circumstances, efforts were made to provide educational and recreational activities, fostering a semblance of normalcy and aiding in post-war reintegration efforts. At the end of the war, many of the thousands of prisoners chose not to be repatriated but stayed on in that part of Yorkshire and became farmers, proceeded to fraternise with the locals and started families, changing that part of the world forever and becoming great contributors to our society.

The story's narrative is that it's a victory for our heritage and that, somehow, the developers involved in applying to build there have been defeated by the council. That narrative, the idea that development is wrong and is somehow attempting to erase our shared history, to gentrify it, is something you will see more and more in the coming months. Not all examples will be as dynamic as the Italian farmers of Kirk Deighton. Still, the coming changes will inevitably involve sacrifice, so presenting the reasoning will be incredibly difficult; you will be told that state-level change risks undermining local democracy and environmental protections, but judgment on that will be open to fierce debate.

The Chief Executive of the FMB recently stated that the UK will need a radical change to tackle planning issues, citing their own manifesto for change, "Growth from the Ground Up," which calls for a cross-party consensus on creating a National Planning Framework to essentially remove an element of local decision making - in exchange for additional funding for local authority planning teams, to ensure infrastructure suitability is met, and to provide the human element in the decision making. What is being proposed here is essentially a halfway house between the current system and a zoning state-run system, something with a whiff of Soviet-era mass economics for the greater good, something deeply unpalatable.

The FMB also stated that "Proposals to establish ‘Skills England’ offer hope to tackle the current skills crisis in the building industry. Pledges to boost apprenticeship numbers, as well as Labour’s Warm Home Plan, will be a major boost to rolling out retrofitting of homes across Britain. There is, however, potential to go further with creating a dedicated Housing Department and a Secretary of State for Housing who can attend Cabinet meetings.

This human element is crucial, as it ensures that the decisions made are not just based on numbers and algorithms but also on our communities' real needs and concerns. Previously, in debating planning reform, we have looked at algorithm-based ideas, which are a complete switch over to big state planning. Still, there is a real danger with that when it comes to the preservation of local heritage. Hence, the balance must be found to protect local interests, preserve the best interests of the nation's builders, and protect our history so future generations can learn the lessons of the past.

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