Coffee House

Was today’s conservatory revolt really necessary?

16 April 2013

Eric Pickles did manage to avert a defeat in the Commons on plans to let homeowners build extensions and conservatories without planning permission, but it’s worth asking how on earth the government managed to get in the position where its backbench was so worked up on a policy like this in the first place?

The amendment, tabled by Lord True and approved by peers – would have allowed councils to opt out of the new freedoms. And 18 Tory MPs – John Baron, Andrew Bingham, Bob Blackman, Tracey Crouch, Nick de Bois, Zac Goldsmith, Philip Hollobone, Stewart Jackson, Julian Lewis, Anne Main, Caroline Nokes, Matthew Offord, Mark Pawsey, Sir John Stanley and Chris White – and nine Lib Dems – Annette Brooke, Paul Burstow, Andrew George, Martin Horwood, Greg Mulholland, John Pugh, Adrian Sanders and David Ward – rebelled against the government to support the amendment. The Coalition’s majority was cut to 27.


Planning Minister Nick Boles spent a great deal of time and effort trying to assuage colleagues’ fears about this: he was, in the words of one person he’d tried to talk around to the idea ‘very stubborn’. But it’s curious, because this plan really has nothing to do with the sort of planning reform that he preaches, one where local people are kept on side with a focus on the quality of developments. As Zac Goldsmith argued earlier, the policy would have been fine had it allowed developments that were unopposed to go ahead without planning permission, but this pitches local person against local person and does nothing to foster warm and tingly feelings about new development in a community.

The problem with the way the government approaches planning reform is that it likes to dip its toes into many different pools of water without committing to any: one day it is keen on a localist agenda, on another it is happy to force development through using the Planning Inspectorate.

This isn’t just a way of achieving nothing, it’s also a way of upsetting backbenchers. There’s nothing an MP who already suspects they are treated simply as lobby fodder hates more than being mucked around on something. At least on education, no matter how controversial it is, and no matter how many times the teaching unions get their placards out, MPs know that the government is generally headed in the same direction. When it comes to planning, ministers tend to spew out ideas, and then announce policies that don’t fit with them. And all along, there’s a possibility that the very painful but not particularly radical planning reforms that the government pushed through in the NPPF haven’t worked and more needs to be done. It’s difficult for an MP to know what to argue for: liberalisation of planning laws, forcing development on nimbys, or greater flow of credit. And of course this confusion means that everyone is angry with some aspect of planning reform.

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  • Dogsnob

    We need more transparency on the issue of conservatories.

  • Mr Creosote

    Was today’s conservatory revolt really necessary?
    Nope…get on with it.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    How on earth have LibLabCon got themselves into the ridiculous position whereby something as important as this is left in their hands? Surely this should be dealt with in Brussels?

  • Mr Creosote

    “one day it is keen on a localist agenda, on another it is happy to force development through using the Planning Inspectorate.”
    It’s called carrot and stick – you offer the carrot, if there’s no response you hit them with the stick. I see nothing wrong with this approach.
    60% of LPA’s still have no local plan in place. My local authority have been fannying about with theirs since 2004, during which time they’ve had a housing moratorium in place and nothing has been built. Now they have no 5 year land supply and are at the mercy of the volume house-builders through the NPPF.
    The localists could have started their Neighbourhood Plans 2 years ago – not one has been put in place. Cue large unpopular housing estates going through on the nod via the Inspectorate.
    Myopic Nimbyism and local authority ineptitude have created a totally avoidable situation which has played straight into the hands of the big building cartels.
    The design legacy will haunt us for many years to come.

  • andagain

    The problem with the way the government approaches planning reform is
    that it likes to dip its toes into many different pools of water without
    committing to any

    I take this to be a sign that the government never really thought about planning reform when it was in opposition. Now it turns out to be essential, and they have to make something up as they go along. Under such circumstances it is quite rational to try a bunch of things and then concentrate on whichever policy seems to work.

    The trouble is that they are still at the experimental stage, and all of the opposition comes from withiin the Conservative Party and its supporters.

    It is a bit like the last governments attempts to reform the NHS, education etc. Remember all the trouble Tony Blair had with that?

    I conclude that the housing crisis is going to become an ever-larger political issue, and that we are going to see a lot of Tory MPs opposing various attempts to fix it, and then trying to persuade people that they are not the Nasty Party.

  • Daniel Maris

    This government is useless. We need some proper planning to deal with our housing and land use needs.

    Firstly, we need an urban housing programme that produces good quality housing in urban areas, including plenty of cheap housing. There are all sorts of things that can be done. For instance we should be looking to make accommodation over shops available and convert shops to residential. Some terraced properties need to have second and third floors added. We need good quality housing blocks to be built with modern leisure facilities – pools and gyms – incorporated.

    Second we need a national housing programme – requiring every district to meet a quota of housing within their area which would be infill and medium rise.

    Third, let’s protect our land from coastal erosion and begin reclaiming land from the sea, as the Dutch have.

    • HookesLaw

      coastal erosion? what are you on?

      Its the back benches that are useless. People who do not want to move and make their houses into a better more practical place are penalised.

      • Daniel Maris

        The Netherlands, one of the most densely populated areas stopped coastal erosion and reclaimed about 20% of its land mass from the sea.

        20% of Tokyo Bay is reclaimed from the sea.

        Just because British politicians are lacking in imagination, don’t think others are.

        If we are not going to control mass immigration (and this government certainly doesn’t have the will to do so) we will need extra land.

      • Tom Tom

        Zac Goldsmith is superb

  • David Lindsay

    Now that the debate on planning is wide open, Eric Pickles should bring forward legislation to abolish the delegation of planning decisions from Councillors to Officers, and to require change of use in order to convert a main home into a second home.

    The first, in particular, would be very much of a piece with his permission of Councils to revert to the old committee system. That permission ought itself to be converted. Into a requirement. With directly elected Mayors abolished.

    • rubyduck

      and you started so well

      • David Lindsay

        Where did I go wrong?

        • notme3

          Development Control is carried still out by the ‘old committee system’.

          • David Lindsay

            Oh, I know that. I have been involved with this sort of thing since a tragically early age. I was making the general point.

            • Wessex Man

              Now listen here David, you’ve obviously zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • terence patrick hewett

    Got to house all those Romanians and Bulgarians somewhere.

    • Mr Creosote

      Vote UKIP – otherwise start building the houses

      • Walthamstow Times

        UKIP will drag us down, like any other extremist party. Read the history, mate.

        • Mr Creosote

          Read the manifesto – nothing extreme in there, just good sense.

  • Archimedes

    Unfortunately, Nick Boles is a useless radical. He commits himself to all sorts of fuzzy visions of the future, with absolutely no idea how to deliver any of them.

    He’s idealistic for political reasons; the worst kind of ideologue; and I’d question his political judgement — one that was, no doubt, born in one of those pretentious little independent bookstores in Notting Hill, where elites marvel at their multiculturalism because they talk about “those funny little Indian people” in an affectionate way, and buy miscellaneous crap to display on their mantelpieces like a trophy: “Ooh, I’m so multicultural, don’t you know?”.

    • Daniel Maris

      I’m sure you’re right. He’s the one committed to making room for another 20 million people isn’t he? Why? Because he won’t say boo to mass immigration.

      • Archimedes

        You’re looking at it the wrong way, Daniel. The way the system works is that we cram the UK property market, lure foreigners and their vast hordes of cash into the country pushing prices up, and then we cash in and retire to some bliss Caribbean island, drinking pino coladas all day. It’s a very special, and very British, way to balance the current account.

        • HookesLaw

          Building conservatories is not creating space for mass immigration.

          • Archimedes

            Did I say that it was? I was merely responding to Daniels assertion in a flippant and childish way. So leave me be, you fiend!

            • Daniel Maris

              Yes, we all shiver a little when we see Hookey’s name below one of our posts. What fiendish miscontrual of our contribution will he perpetrate , we wonder?

          • itdoesntaddup

            Try garden sheds in Slough.

            • Donafugata

              Or Southall. The shanties are quite within keeping of the un-planning permission of the mother country.

              We are all Indian now.

          • dalai guevara

            this is not about conservatories.

        • Daniel Maris

          Ha-ha, more than a germ of truth in that.

        • dalai guevara

          Yes indeed wise one, and in the process of ‘retiring to some Caribbean island’, we also lift their economies as we now spend most of our monies there – I can confirm that the domestic construction sector in Jamaica has gone from strength to strength.

          So what’s not to like? People in the free world have the freedom of choosing where and how they spend their money, construction standards are undoubtedly pushed to new limits in places that previously sported single glazing only, and the respective authorities will no doubt efficiently oversee the creation of more developments to a higher spec.

          Oh hang on…I can see you are quite rightly fuming. Of course we find that in ‘shed with bed Britain’, none of the regulatiory side will be enforced, especially in areas where neighbours have other things on their minds than to object to urban sprawl. Does anyone remember Grant Shapps and his posturing before he moved jobs? What is he doing now? Defending the reverse argument?

          Falling standards is surely what will come out of this for us.

      • Dan Grover

        The White, British population has gone up a good half a million in the last eight years. As a young (white, British, not that it scarcely matters) person living in the UK, I have to ask why we aren’t building more new houses *anyway* given the extreme discrepancy between the number of new houses and the increase in population even when immigration is stripped out.

        It seems to me that that vast majority of people who seem to suggest that building houses isn’t important are those that grew up in a time where there were enough around that one didn’t need to sell both kidneys and/or wait for a parent to die just in order to obtain a 25-year long debt to get one.

        • HookesLaw

          If more families were not splitting up we would not need as many houses. There are a great many empty houses as well.

          • Dan Grover

            We wouldn’t need as many houses if we were all 2ft tall and could sleep in drawers either. We, however, are not. The state cannot, nor should it, attempt to socially engineer those to stay together who do not wish to do so. It can do something about building regulations that make it hard for developers to build more homes.

        • itdoesntaddup

          When was that then? Perhaps you are unaware, but the average occupancy of dwellings has been falling ever since the 1950s building boom got under way – including in the first decade of this century, despite the immigration boom. It’s now a scant 2.3 (and under 2 in Scotland) people per dwelling.

          House prices have little to do with the ratio of population to dwellings, and a lot to do with financial factors.

          • Dan Grover

            I’m not really sure what that has to do with anything? Unless you’re suggesting we begin to legislate on what you can and cannot do with your own home, we still have to face the issue that we have an increasing population (with or without immigration) without the house building that it requires. The trend you mention makes this more important, not less.

            • Daniel Maris

              Er no, without immigration we wouldn’t have population growth. You’ve been misled by someone else’s stats.

        • Daniel Maris

          I very much doubt the white British population has gone up half a million. The white European population probably has – in fact more than that. Many so called “Britons” will in fact be South Africans who have some connection with this country in the past but who certainly appear to be to be British in any meaningful sense.

          • Fergus Pickering

            You mean WHITE South Africans, I take it. They seem quite British enough to me. A bloody sight more British than…

          • Dan Grover

            The ONS has figures suggesting that between 2002 and 2009, the number of White British – yup, British – in England and Wales went up by around 450,000 when you don’t include emigrants. It didn’t include Scotland or NI, so I conservatively rounded up to 500,000 for the UK as a whole. There were plenty of other White boxes in the data that were not British. The only reason the actual number has hardly changed is because of emigration – but we’re stripping out immigration, right? Or are we expected to still be able to go where we want whilst banning others from coming here? Only 1/3rd of our emmigrants had actual jobs to go to, after all, which is the typical restriction desired by those seeking to curb immigration (a goal I have no problem with, incidentally, though I recognise it’ll affect our ability to travel overseas, also).

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