An era of change and the need to bring planning back into focus...
We have now reached the end of the second Elizabethan era. A sentence which feels deeply strange both to write and to see written down.
The Queen was on the throne not only for the entirety of my lifetime, but also that of my parents. Her reign has been a thread of consistency woven through a period of increasingly rapid societal change.
The Queen stood with us through the aftermath of the second world war; the rise of mini-skirts and the Beatles; and the fall of the Berlin wall. She ruled over 'Cool Britannia', saw the dot-com bubble grow and burst, and comforted the nation after September 11th and July 7th. She was there throughout the Brexit saga; mourned with us during the pandemic and shared tea with Paddington Bear. She has lived a life of public service that will be almost impossible to replicate.
Whilst her legacy will live on, our period of national mourning is now over. This week politics is set to return with avengence.
Reports in the Sunday Times, over the weekend, suggest that the 'mini budget', scheduled for this Friday, may be more comprehensive than initially expected - it is even possible that the 'Investment Zones' that Liz Truss trailed during the leadership contest may make an appearance.
Is is hard to tell precisely, from the information shared to date, how these 'Investment Zones' are intended to operate. As best I can tell, they seem to be a souped-up version of the latest iteration of "Enterprise Zones" that were re-introduced in 2011.
Alongside simplified (dare I say, almost zonal) planning rules; Enterprise Zones provided businesses with financial incentives to relocate - such as business rates discounts or enhanced capital allowances for the purchase of machinery and equipment. The intention behind them was to kick start the economies of the parts of the country in which they were located.
According to this House of Commons briefing, to date, Enterprise Zones have been a fairly comprehensive failure. Paragraphs 5.2 and 5.3 of the report read as follows:
"Centre for Cities report
A 2019 report by the Centre for Cities on Enterprise Zones in England found that between 2011 and 2017 found that the total new jobs were only around one-quarter of the estimates produced by the Treasury in 2011 and “at least one-third of the jobs created have come as a result of the move of businesses from elsewhere, rather than the creation of new posts in new businesses.”
Jobs created Enterprise Zones were found to be “overwhelmingly low skilled” and Enterprise Zones have been unsuccessful in attracting high-skilled economic activity “that would help to change the economic make-up of the economies into which they have been placed.”
Office for Budget Responsibility
The Office for Budget Responsibility’s October 2021 Economic and Fiscal Outlook includes a comparison of the estimated costs of the different Enterprise Zones announcements between 2011 and 2015 with the actual cost of these measures. This found costs were “around a quarter of the original estimates, suggesting much smaller impacts than initially hoped.”
The OBR also refers to the 2019 UN World Investment Report, Special Economic Zones, a study of Enterprise Zones internationally. This found “little difference in performance between cities with zones and those without” and that factors such as existing infrastructure and transportation links were “stronger determinants of performance” in economic regeneration."
Time will tell whether 'Investment Zones' prove any more successful than their predecessors, but it wouldn't be a great surprise if they did not.
When explaining our planning system to new trainees, I often compare it to a magic eye puzzle.* A complex mess of overlapping policy, legislation, case law and regulatory regimes which given time, effort and experience, eventually come together to form a picture that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
The problem with such intricate and interconnected systems is simple. If you change parts of the pattern, without first taking the time to understand how it fits together, then the 'magic' stops working. You lose the very over-arching picture that you are trying to achieve.
The new Secretary of State for DLUHC has barely been in post for a fortnight. The latest Housing and Planning Minister has yet to be announced (although rumour suggests it is likely to be Lee Rowley). Any new ministerial team needs time to get up to speed. Time that it does not appear they are likely to get.
If the government is to achieve the economic growth that they are aiming for, then we need a properly functioning planning system.
If they can just bring that goal swimming back into focus, it will likely unlock more economic potential than any Enterprise Zone has in the last ten years.....
*a reference which instantly marks me out as being both old, and no longer 'down with the kids'.
Plans for new low-tax “investment zones” are also ready to turbo-charge growth in areas ripe for redevelopment, putting “rocket boosters” under Rishi Sunak’s plan for freeports, which both Kwarteng and Truss felt was not radical enough.
Areas awarded the new status will benefit from tax reliefs but also a reduction in planning restrictions and environmental regulations to accelerate house building and infrastructure projects.”