Eric Pickles is a great populist and masterful at landing a political punch. During Monday’s debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, he was being pressed by Hilary Benn. Will he, Benn demanded, name a lagging planning authority that might be brought into special measures under the bill? “I am very happy to name the worst, which is Hackney,” Pickles told MPs with evident glee.
Poor Labour controlled Hackney, named and shamed as the worst planning authority in England. Except it isn’t – by far. The furious mayor of Hackney demanded an apology. He got it, and yesterday Pickles published a correction. He pleaded that had meant to name Haringey. No doubt David Browne, the Haringey mayor, will be demanding a similar apology from the hapless Eric Pickles, because Haringey is actually one of the best performing planning authorities.
According to data collected for the Planning Guarantee, Haringey is one of only eight councils to process 100% of the major planning applications it receives within the required six months. Planning appeal statistics show that Haringey lost only 33% of appeal cases in the second quarter of this year, that’s 2% below the national average. Haringey is not failing; it is one of the most successful planning authorities in England.
On my reckoning, Hartlepool (Labour) and Ribble Valley (Conservative) are the two worst performing councils. In fact, across the spectrum of performance, Labour and Conservative councils are not so far apart. Among the Conservative controlled councils, 31% are top notch, processing applications faster than average and losing fewer appeals than average. Of Labour councils, 28% are in the same category. Among those that perform below average, the gap is wider: 21% of Conservative councils; 28% of Labour councils.
What this tells us about Eric Pickles, and presumably about his staff, is that they do not understand their own statistics. It tells us that Pickles is happy to score political points off the opposition, even when the data does not support his argument. And it tells us he is happy to bring in draconian measures under the Growth and Infrastructure Bill to penalised ‘laggard’ planning authorities without having a clue which councils will be affected by the regime.
How do Lib Dem controlled planning authorities fare? Three of the 12 Lib Dem councils for which data are available are high performers. Two are laggardly, but perhaps not so far behind the rest as to be dragged into Pickle’s special measures.
Eric Pickles’ desire to score political points by attacking poor performing councils is bound to backfire as planning prowess bears no relation to political control. Planning should not be a political business. Sadly Mr Pickles seems more interested in bashing his opponents than bringing in measures that will genuinely help the economy.
* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Ludlow, Shropshire. He writes on communities, planning, the environment and history.