Rapid responses

Planning inflation

[Re: Daft planning rules are pushing up the price of food in shops, yesterday]

While it is always good for an article about planning policy to focus on commercial property rather than housing, and while the academics cited may have delivered interesting papers, let’s not use this work to justify more fiddling with the planning system. The government’s March 2012 national planning policy framework represents a hard-won consensus. It is not perfect but it strikes a sensible balance, is pro-growth and is a stable set of rules against which long-term investment decisions can be made. No one is going to invest in town centres if there is a risk of the long-standing “town centres first” policy being torn up. The government is slowly tackling the daft rules. But one of the most important purposes of the planning system is to provide a stable framework around which we can make decisions as to where we invest and live. Let’s not label everything that gets in the way of a cheap deal as “daft” or as “planning red tape”.

Simon Ricketts, partner and UK head of real estate at SJ Berwin LLP.

Not only is the supply of new land for development artificially restricted, but the application process is conducted in different ways depending on the local authority. Large developments can take years to take off, and they always progress with substantial risk attached, as approval is often ambiguous. Further, councils do not invest the additional tax receipts that new developments generate into infrastructure. Instead, capital expenditure is pushed onto the next developer as a condition of being granted planning consent.

Alan Fourie

It may be that there are economic factors behind food costs being relatively higher in the UK than the rest of Europe. I’m Australian and couldn’t believe the price of a basket of like-for-like groceries in the UK when I first arrived here in 2003. But we’re missing an important cultural factor. British people don’t push back on prices. It’s simply not in your culture to ask for discounts. The average Joe that does his shopping on the high street doesn’t have it in his nature to haggle or expect a discount. It’s seen as embarrassing. In Australia or the US, when you spend more than a few dollars, you can always ask for a discount. If you don’t you are seen as stupid. The only discounting that occurs in Britain is during the sales season or at Christmas, and the stores become full of bargain hunters fighting over the scraps. Now that really is embarrassing.

David Spring, CFA

It’s hard to reconcile this article’s comments on the restrictive effect of ‘town centre first” planning policies with the dramatic expansion of out of town superstores since the 1980s – from 300 to more than 1,500 in 2007 on Competition Commission figures. To this we should add a further 25m square feet of grocery retail floor-space under development, and 80 per cent of this out of town. Development continues apace. There are also wider economic and social benefits to thriving town centres, as well as access issues for those not able to jump into a car. Research for the Campaign to Protect Rural England by Vivid Economics shows much more work is needed to quantify the benefits planning can bring. This is especially so in the wake of the coalition’s major overhaul of planning policy.

Graeme Willis, senior policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England


Export revolution

[Re: We need an export-led revolution to save the UK economy, Friday]

The UK will again become a competitive location to create wealth and export when we do five key things. We must radically reduce pointless regulation that impedes investment, employment and growth. We then need to cut taxes to a level at which incentives for risk-taking and hard work are restored. We must drop the anti-business rhetoric, particularly with regard to the financial sector. Meaningless immigration targets should be abandoned – they discourage high performers and graduates from coming to Britain. Finally, we must reset our energy policy so that it supports growth rather than driving manufacturing overseas.

Rory Maw


France in crisis

[Re: As Gérard Depardieu flees, will the 75 per cent tax rate damage France?, yesterday]

France’s competitiveness is not just falling further behind Germany, but also behind its southern neighbours. While southern European governments are reforming their labour markets, Francois Hollande has reversed President Sarkozy’s modest reforms and is trying to balance the budget by taxing heavily. In the short run, markets reward avoiding a harsh adjustment recession with historically low sovereign borrowing costs. But similar to Germany in the early 2000s, eroding competitiveness will slowly push France towards a financial crisis.

Christian Shulz, chief economist at Berenberg Bank



My NHS pay was frozen for the last two years and is now capped at a 1 per cent rise. Why shouldn’t benefits be treated the same?

It’s simple. Benefits must be cut because every other area of spending needs to be cut.

A major cause of high rail fares is wasteful investment in uneconomic projects. Both passengers and taxpayers end up paying.

On my train to London, paying a much higher fare. I’m glad to read Network Rail are investing £2.2bn in my line.

Eurozone unemployment is truly shocking. Overall: 11.8 per cent. Greece youth: 57.6 per cent. Spain youth 56.5 per cent.

The replacement of our ramshackle benefits system with a universal credit is arguably the coalition’s greatest reform.

Horrible news from Eurozone. Unemployment is now 11.8 per cent and rising. Deal with your debts or your debts will deal with you.