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General Boles opens strategic peace talks with planning opponents

By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

GeneralBolesLGAside from George Osborne, Nick Boles has one of the most difficult jobs in the Coalition.

As Planning Minister, he sees his task as being to get construction going, not to preserve the labyrinthine system in perpetuity. The urgency with which Britain requires new building is beyond doubt - not just to reverse the disastrous decline in the building sector but to meet a large shortfall in housing.

The fortunes of the Chancellor rest in large part on his success, too. Yet another study published today warns that the Help to Buy scheme risks inflating a housing bubble - pouring financial support for purchasers into a market with constrained supply. That threat will only be averted if more houses are built.

Boles' reform programme faces some mighty opponents. The Daily Telegraph has thrown its full editorial weight behind a "Hands Off Our Land" campaign, with the support of the National Trust (an organisation once run by a certain Sir Jack Boles, father of the Trust's 21st century bogeyman).

The battle has been bitter so far, with the Government accusing opponents of NIMBYism, and the Telegraph claiming the reforms post the "biggest threat to the countryside since World War Two". Hitler's views on the appropriate size of conservatories and kitchen extensions are not recorded.

So it is interesting to see Daniel entering the Lions' Den today; Nick Boles has an interview with the Telegraph. He strikes a conciliatory tone, encouraging those concerned about an increase in development to channel their efforts into making any plans the best they can be, "rather than just saying 'We don't want any of it.'"

Notably, he also extends an invitation for rural opponents to support Government plans to encourage the conversion of office blocks into flats - on the reasoning that the more conversions there are in existing urban buildings, the less towns and cities will need to expand onto greenfield sites.

The Telegraph leader writers are apparently mollified, declaring, "Let us hope the future is more constructive, in every sense."

Never has the name of the satirical Boles Twitter account, General Boles, seemed more appropriate. The rolling, mechanised war across the countryside has come to an end - and rather than let his reforms become bogged down in the attrition of the trenches, the Planning Minister has made a bold strategic move.

By calming hostilities with the Telegraph, and seeking to turn enemies into allies on the question of office block conversions, he will be able to make better use of his forces. With the General Election two years away, and the breakdown of coalition potentially rather closer, he knows he has a limited time in which to secure victory.

The General is picking his battles, the best to win the campaign. As Sun Tzu put it:

"Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique."


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