Roger Hepher argues that Michael Gove’s ‘Procrustian Bed’ analogy is itself based on myths of housing need.
Michael Gove sent most of us scrurrying to Google when yesterday he referred on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to a Procrustian Bed. It turns out that, in Greek myth, Procrustes was a crazed ruler who abducted travellers and either stretched them or decapitated them to fit the dimensions of his bed.
Gove’s rather pretentiously expressed point was that Councils shouldn’t have to find land for housing development just to satisfy an arbitrary housing need figure.
The trouble with this analogy is not just that housing need figures are not arbitrary – they are based on detailed analysis of areas’ needs – but that it applies equally the other way round. It is not good governance to decide to ignore part of the community’s need for housing simply to fit with a framework of boundaries which are often quite arbitrary. Local government boundaries are often hopelessly out of kilter with current conditions (look at Oxford and Cambridge for example); Green Belt boundaries were often drawn up in the 1950s and 60s, reflected the circumstances of a different age, and now in some cases fossilise open land of little objective value; village development boundaries tend to reflect the preferences of those who favour the status quo.
Striking a balance
What this should remind us is that planning is all about striking sensible balances, and that the case for proactive and wide-area planning only gets stronger as the world gets more complicated.