Fixing the Foundations

The Treasury response to stimulating growth

Some will have observed that in the past week or so that the Government has published a new document that looks at the issue of economic UK growth and how it can be best stimulated and how we can best improve UK productivity.

There is a lot in this document and at the moment we do not have the detail which would give us a clearer understanding of what it means for us in Kingston. The introduction to the document sets out the ambition.

Productivity is the challenge of our time. It is what makes nations stronger, and families richer. Growth comes either from more employment, or higher productivity. 

We have been exceptionally successful in recent times in growing employment. We are proud of that. But now in the work we do across government we need to focus on world-beating productivity, to drive the next phase of our growth and raise living standards. 

The drivers of productivity are well understood: a dynamic, open enterprising economy supported by long-term public and private investment in infrastructure, skills and science. A nation flourishes when it uses the full skills of all its people in all parts of that nation. The UK has a long-term productivity problem, which has been made worse by the financial crisis. 

Like many western democracies the challenge has not been to understand what to do; the challenge has been to be bold enough as a country to take the difficult decisions required to deliver this whole-heartedly. That must now end. We are determined that Britain does take these decisions. That is the only way to ensure rising living standards and a better quality of life for our citizens. Indeed, our ambition is that Britain becomes the richest of all the major economies by 2030. 

Many in Kingston will be interested in the area around planning freedoms as this will be the most localised impact of the changes and one with which some residents are currently very interested. You can see the proposals on page 43.

However, as yet we do not really know what these changes mean and I have asked Council officers to provide a briefing to us on what the impact could be.

There are a number of these proposals that should interest us all.

The government will bring forward proposals to significantly streamline the length and process of local plans

This will clearly be of benefit to Kingston in that it means our planning policy can be clearer and implemented with greater speed. Much of the problem in Kingston is that so little has been done to create planning briefs and policy that we are ending up trying to create a framework for areas of the town where developers are already submitting applications.

The government will consider how policy can support higher density housing around key commuter hubs. The government will also consider how national policy and guidance can ensure that unneeded commercial land can be released for housing.

As we know Crossrail 2 has a very high likelihood of being funded, but we do need to keep up pressure on this. Only this week I had discussions with Boris to tell him how important this is to to the future prosperity of this part of London. Boris has set up a board to help carry forward this proposal and to lobby Government for its inclusion in the Comprehensive Spending Review. It is inevitable that for CR2 to work will require the growth of more housing around those stations where it stops as we know from past experience that for infrastructure to come to an area they have to be prepared to provide a growth dividend - one cannot happen without the other.

legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers

This is one area where we do need more clarity. The Government believes the current planning system 'can create the sort of "slow, expensive and uncertain process" that reduces the appetite to build'. Further, they have said that they are 'clear on the need to promote use of brownfield land, and will remove all unnecessary obstacles to its re-development, including these sorts of planning obstacles'.

They seem keen to develop a system of automatic planning permission on sites of Brownfield land that are entered onto registers. This will create a zonal system of planning in England for the first time but is similar to that in other countries. I guess what we all want to know is what Kingston Brownfield land (if any) would qualify under this reform. We all know that Brownfield land is land that has already been developed and is looking to be redeveloped but in Kingston this could encompass an awful lot of land. At the moment we simply do not know the answer but we will be working to establish the likely parameters.

There are also various reforms to speed up the planning process as there is a view that local authorities still take too long to process applications and move to determination. Whilst this is clearly welcome it will put further pressure on the ability to engage residents if we are to risk the Council losing its planning powers due to under performance against planning targets.

There are two other reforms which will be of interest. The first is to drop to 50 units the schemes that have to be referred to the Mayor. The Mayor has powers to take away determination of these schemes from the Borough if they have not determined the application in 16 weeks. Whilst the current Mayor has not used this power that often this is obviously a desire to go further in speeding up planning applications across London and indications are that this power will be increasingly used.

Finally the Mayor and the Boroughs will get ultimate power over London sightlines, without the intervention of the Secretary of State.

All in all this is a significant package of changes and we will be working to establish the extent of all the changes over the coming weeks and it may well be that a paper comes to a committee in due course.