Planning generates extreme ‘in-denial-itis’ in a range of groups, writes Paul Finch
Have you noticed how many groups and organisations seem to be ‘in denial’ these days? That is to say that they assume their vested interests, and the opinions that go with them, mean that those opinions are objective reality. As this column has noted on previous occasions, this often results in an outbreak of Alice in Wonderland syndrome, where the meaning of a word becomes what the speaker says it means.
Just because this has always been true in politics doesn’t mean it has to infect everyone else in the way it has affected the BBC, for example, which is in denial about the future of broadcasting in the 21st century and about whether it has an institutional political bias.
‘Affordable’ housing is a lousy policy that doesn’t (and cannot) deliver the goods
Take the Mayor of London and some of his policies. Like his predecessors, Sadiq Khan is in denial about the observable fact that ‘affordable’ housing is a lousy policy that doesn’t (and cannot) deliver the goods.
In his defence, it has to be acknowledged that the political class as a whole has been in denial about the need for more housing of every variety since the capital started repopulating in the 1980s, a fact that was known but ignored.
Unfortunately Sadiq is also in denial about the fact that his development corporation for Old Oak Common is up a gum tree, has seen its draft plan torn to pieces by a planning inspector, and is awaiting – so far in vain – for mayoral support. This is particularly odd, given the go-ahead for HS2 and the decision to focus on Old Oak Common – or Willesden Junction as it is currently known – as the London end of it, until a final phase brings the line to Euston.
Planning, whether in respect of transport infrastructure or land use in general, is something that generates extreme ‘in-denial-itis’ in a range of groups. The free-market extremists who hate regulation of almost any description on principle, Policy Exchange being their usual mouthpiece, try to blame any shortage on the fact that systems are in place to try to balance private appetite and the public good.
You see what can happen when unthinking elimination of decent regulation lets the free market loose: the scandal of permitted development which is resulting in the public disgrace of ‘homes’ being created which are little more than hutches.
On the other hand, there are far too many groups so wedded to the virtues of planning that they cannot accept any attempt to provide clarity and appropriate speed to what can be a bureaucratic nightmare.
Hence the endless attempts by government to ‘speed up’ a system while at the same time giving ‘local communities’ consultation privileges which guarantee stasis, including resorting to frequently phoney judicial reviews, conducted at the taxpayers’ expense and therefore risk-free to objectors. You sometimes wonder how any housing gets built at all.
Currently, the worst example of the phoney is the behaviour by many parties involved in the Grenfell Tower inquiry, where a truly disgusting display of denial and buck-passing is ongoing. It is a fact that in law, nobody can be forced to give evidence to a public inquiry which may result in criminal charges at a later date.
Of course it is crucial that we find out what really happened and therefore that witnesses should tell all they know honestly. What the judge has to say about their behaviour, at least in some cases, will probably be punishment enough: reputations ruined and organisations named and shamed, quite rightly.
In respect of architects, leaving aside questions of politics, the inevitable subject about which they are in denial is the need for buildings as a solution to any problem. The Cedric Price joke, about the couple who needed a divorce rather than a new house, is a good one because, to adapt what he said about technology, if a building is the answer, what was the question?