AGENDA: UK Has a Rosy Future - If We're All Willing to Give. Public Relations Consultant Adrian Kibbler - Whose Clients Include Warwick-Based Developer the Sandstone Group - Calls for a New Spirit of Openness and Honesty When It Comes to the Politics of Planning and Protest
Byline: Adrian Kibbler
Perhaps it would be better for us all if we were all to take a vow of honesty and face up to the contradictions that make us hypocrites.
I am, of course, referring to the continual battle that goes on inside each of us between the greater good and our own personal self-interest.
Most of us probably recognise that there is reality in global warming and the need to preserve what is left of this small over-crowded island from disappearing under an everincreasing acreage of tarmac.
But how many of us are really prepared to sacrifice the convenience and comfort of our air-conditioned cars for the pleasures of the bicycle, bus or train?
Most of us recognise that we have a rapidly-ageing population and that, as a consequence of this, there are growing numbers of people who will be unable to look after themselves in old age.
One in three people over the age of 60 will suffer from some form of dementia by the time they die.
Yet getting permission to build care homes where people can spend the late twilight of their lives in peace and dignity is like trying to find gold.
Likewise, the majority of people recognise and see all around them the shortage of housing that leaves so many people without hope of a home of their own.
In a market economy the principal driver of price is the law of supply and demand. The simple truth is that there are too many people chasing too few homes, resulting in the ridiculous price of property - albeit not helped by irresponsible lending by the financial institutions.
One of the pillars of the New Year "relaunch" by Gordon Brown is a pledge to build three million new homes. This coincided with the announcement that the Department of Communities and Local Government wants an additional 420,000 new homes built in the West Midlands in the next 20 years - or 20,000 a year.
The reality is that as things stand there is not a hope in hell of achieving these goals - not because of any shortage of capacity in the construction sector but because of the tortuously slow and overly complex planning process.
Without question the biggest thing that the Government can do to tackle the housing crisis - for that is what it is - would be to reshape the planning process so that decisions can be made more quickly at less cost and to address the disproportionate influence that a small number of NIMBYs have in placing obstacles to the greater good.
Another issue that seems continually to be sidelined into the "too difficult" tray is where the land is coming from to accommodate all the new housing that is needed.
Many people understandably are unhappy about using green belt and further infringement on the countryside. We hear a lot about brown field land
without its proponents being very specific about where these sites are to be found.
A sensible alternative is to utilise large gardens in urban and suburban locations that are no longer wanted by their owners. However, making good use of this land is glibly dismissed as "garden grabbing." The negative impact of the planning system is, of course, not just confined to making sure that we have enough homes to go round.
One of the more positive stories at the end of last year was the re-opening of the modernised St Pancras International Station and the long awaited high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel.
However, this new piece of railway infrastructure is by international standards nothing very remarkable and simply replicates the kind of system that has been commonplace in France, much of Europe and Japan for a generation. …