Time to denationalise planning

The wind farm controversy shows how ineffective our planning system is. A lot of people are vaguely in favour of wind farms, but that’s because they don’t live anywhere near them. Those who do are, by and large, bitterly opposed to them. Aaprt from the landowners, that is, who get a colossal payout if the development goes ahead. Or those who handle the money for the pointless play park or village hall extension that is the energy company’s ‘community benefit’ compensation payment to the locality.

The government is stuck in the middle, trying to make a quasi-judicial judgement under fierce lobbying pressure from either side. But its planning rules and decisions are based on bureaucratic guesswork, just like the soviet plans for guessing demand for shoes or cars. In the absence of price signals you can’t allocate resources usefully.

So why not introduce pricing for development rights? Developers should lease the right to build from the people affected. The price they set would depend on the value of the surrounding landscape and amenity, and the quality of the development. That way developers would be incentivized to build attractively, and in areas that were less sensitive. Locals, meanwhile, would be properly compensated for any damage done. Everyone would be a winner (except the planning bureaucrats who would be made redundant). Development would only ever go ahead where its economic value outweighed the damage done to the environment. More here on the Think Scotland web site.

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