The Jenrick/Desmond row tells us that the British planning system is highly, hugely, corrupt. The question then becomes – because we don’t like corruption in our green and pleasant land – what should we do about this? The answer is, obviously enough, to change our planning system so that it is no and, by preference cannot be, corrupt.
So, abolish the Community Infrastructure Levy. In fact, simply abolish all forms of planning gain. That way there’s no method of nicking money from a project therefore there won’t be corruption about how much should be nicked and by whom.
As Simon Jenkins points out:
The law was broken. There is no argument. At a dinner, a planning minister, Robert Jenrick, sat next to a developer who attempted to lobby him to allow a gigantic £1bn project in London’s Docklands. He then reversed a public decision of his own department, and he expedited it to save the developer, Richard Desmond, some £40m in local levy. His party then accepted an admittedly paltry sum of money from Desmond.
To be fair to Jenrick, he denies none of this and, on legal advice, reversed his decision with lightning speed.
And as The Guardian also explains:
The planning system has historically cast developers and politicians in poacher and gamekeeper roles. But in recent years an increased focus on financial negotiations between public authorities and developers has made simple yes/no decisions into more complex transactions, sparking concerns the system lacks transparency and is vulnerable to corruption.
After years of austerity, cash-strapped councils have become more reliant on using planning deals with developers to provide affordable housing and funds for community infrastructure such as schools and play centres.
It was this financialisation of planning, in the form of the community infrastructure levy (CIL), that snared Jenrick and Desmond over the latter’s plan to turn a redundant printworks in east London into a £1bn housing-led development. The CIL is a per-square-metre charge which councils have been able to apply to large projects since 2010.
The system extends out to how many low rent – commonly called “affordable housing” – units a development must include and all that as well.
But the basic idea here is that for you, Mr. Property Developer you, to be allowed to build something you’ve got to pay off the local political system. How much you’ve got to pay off is a political decision. There are a number of levels at which that pay off can be made. Local councillors say, they can influence the decision. So can the local council itself, so also higher levels of politics like the national Minister in charge, their political party and so on.
The amounts of money involved are substantial – here it’s £40 million, a sum that buys an awful lot of politics. The complaint is that politics is being bought by these sums. The answer is to make the sums not payable therefore there is no incentive to, reason for nor even opportunity for corruption.
Simply abolish the entire idea of planning gain and there is no space left for corruption. Further, any system which has in it a “how much?” negotiation is ripe to be corrupted. So, don’t have such a system. Abolish it and be done with even the temptation.