A blog about planning, planning law and planning policy


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Nicholas Crane and “We want a say”

Towns With Nick CraneThe market town which has been the subject of these “We want a say” posts is Saffron Walden and this week just past saw a television programme on Saffron Walden in the BBC’s series “Town”.  This is a series in a similar mould to Coast and is presented by Nicholas Crane who also presented Coast.

The programme on Saffron Walden began as a most interesting review of the history and geography of the town, but moved on to consider the development against which “Your chance to say no” has been campaigning.  Whilst Crane, who is a geographer (and local boy, having studied at the forerunner of the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge) recognised that towns change and must change as time marches on he came out with some quite extraordinary statements about planning in this country.  First he asserted that the new housing was a “response to Government imposed targets”.  And second he stated that our landscapes have been protected by a “fundamental principle of planning” that “the long term use of land takes precedence over an owner’s right to profit”.  How long, he asked, can that principle survive?

Where does Crane get this from?  The current Government, with great fanfare, has deliberately abandoned what it usually describes as the “hated top-down housing targets”.  And where do we see a principle of planning that long term use trumps the owner’s right to profit?  If that were a principle there could never have been any change, because change would always be from the previous “long term use”.  Agriculture would have triumphed, there would be no urban growth. Instead, towns would have become more and more crowded. Does Crane want a return to the high-rise blocks of the 1960s (shortly before he studied geography)?  For that would the consequence of the principle he claims is fundamental to our planning system.  How does he see that in relation to the “presumption in favour of development” which certainly is fundamental to planning?  And where does he find his principle written down?

It is very sad that broadcasters of popular television programmes should put out myths like this and simply fail to research mainline Government policy properly.

Still, in its favour “Town” did dispel one myth.  The “Your chance to say no” campaign says that the plan is for “thousands of new houses” in Saffron Walden.  Crane gave the local councillor with responsibility for social housing the opportunity to point out that the number in the plan is actually 860 – not exactly “1000s” even when added to the 440 already permitted.  The best the campaigner interviewed could say was that developers will come back later for more.

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