"Planners rightened of their own shadows?"
A guest of www.faxfn.org

Welcome to www.plannersattheodpm.org, started 1st February 2003.

Planners at the ODPM

Why this website?

A rash moment. After a few questions the man in the pub said "The planners at the ODPM are frightened of their own shadows". So the name was booked - and the advert in Private Eye.

Who should not develop planning policy?

Was the man in the pub right? One problem with planners is that they have an encyclopedic knowledge of why things can't be done.

But who else is there? There is no obvious answer. Architects are creative but illogical. Economists use their own logic which does not stretch to spatial problems. Engineers have little social awareness. The "generalists" (if they still exist) simply do not know enough. There is no candidate group that has the necessary skills, knowledge, judgment, etc.

So how can progress be made?

It is hard to say but here is a range of relevant policy issues that prospective candiates might be tested on (and some of the questions put to the man in the pub):

  • If local shops provide a social service should they be paid (eg. for helping to keep the elderly in their own homes)? If so how?
  • Building a new house creates some 70 tonnes of the greenhouse gas CO2. This represents a "Capital CO2 cost". Over what period of time should this capital cost be amortised and what should be the discount rate?
  • Should the pattern of settlement be changed to cope with terrorism?
  • Can local design reduce food miles?
  • Should higher education be supported by giving universities planning permission for commercial enterprises?
  • In 2002, the total of house price rises was approximately equal to 40% of GDP. Who won, who lost? (How many houses in Brittany can be bought with the proceeds of one house sale in London?

There is some hope. The ODPM website has an important refinement to the Treasury's policy of discounting. They have "A Social Time Preference Rate for Use In Long-Term Discounting" (found here) prepared by the consultancy, Oxera, which starts

In the calculation of present values of costs and benefits of public sector projects and policies, future values are multiplied by a discount factor that is calculated from the social discount rate (social time preference rate). This practice is described in the Treasury’s Green Book. In the past it has always been the practice to use the same discount rate over short timescales as for long timescales. Yet, discounting at even a modest rate, such as 3.5%, reduces the value of costs (or benefits) several hundred years hence to almost zero. This disenfranchises future generations from consideration in today’s decisions.

At last - it is time someone challenged the Treasury on that one. But it's not bad for a for a bunch of economists who are reputed to take free market solutions far too seriously. Can we expect more? Will the ODPM tackle the problem of the enormous transfers of wealth that the planning system gifts to the undeserving affluent? Will it discover effective ways of keeping neighbourhood shops open? Will it make us understand the environmental cost of flying our green beans in from East Africa?

After this rash start, www.plannersattheodpm.org.uk is now on the web. If you wish to contribute contact us through info@faxfn.org.

In the meantime our other, relevant, websites in this series are: