At this time of year, looking back on the good times of 2017, the hours spent in the allotment were among the most pleasant. What can be better than going off on a sunny afternoon to be out in the fresh air, getting all the exercise one needs as the weeds are cleared, choosing what to plant, watching the miracle as things grow from a tiny seed and learning so much from helpful neighbouring allotment holders. How quickly the peaceful hours pass.

It is also a time to think about what to hope for in the coming year. Thanks to Blue Planet there is recognition that something must be done about plastics, reducing their use and disposing of them safely.

In the planning world, if only instead of “we need more housing” the sound bite could be “we need more affordable housing.” Market houses have been built but many of the much needed affordable houses have not. Recent changes in the planning system have enabled developers to argue that it is not viable for them to do so. Hopefully this will be changed and ways of a achieving the right houses, such as reserving medium and small sites for Councils, small builders and self-build will soon become part of Government guidance.

Again, it cannot be right that people from abroad can buy houses and cheap flats off plan and leave them empty while homeless people and those with low paid jobs have nowhere to live. Other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and Denmark limit it or don’t allow it. How soon will this be put right?

The current focus on making the best use of urban land is welcomed. In the early 1980s there were inner city riots because the green fields on the edge of cities had been developed leaving the centres without jobs. For some ten years or more, the need to re-generate the city and town centres came to the top of the agenda and a lot of brownfields were found and re-developed. Then the aim was weakened. Instead of priority for brownfields the buzz word was “smart” development which means building on green fields at the same time as brownfields. You can guess what happened. Building went ahead on the greenfields and faltered on the brownfields. Hopefully, we are heading once again towards insisting that the brownfields are not just given priority but are re-developed first before more greenfield sites are permitted. A growing economy depends on having flourishing town centres and there seems no shortage of brownfields to re-develop creatively.

There have been instances of sites being permitted but development being delayed. It has then been argued that there is no longer a five year supply of land so more land needs to be brought forward. This is being investigated and will hopefully be put right. It would also be good to have fewer major outline planning applications which can turn into applications for something quite different when the reserved matters are eventually dealt with. With full applications, what is apparent from the start is much more likely to be what is built.

With the new Housing Bill, will the planning system will be strengthened and able to work again? Relaxing the rules has not produced the right houses in the right places. It is finance, not planning that holds things up.

How good it would be if important consultations, especially those with questions that are difficult to get ones head round, did not happen in the three weeks before Christmas. For many of those who take the time to send in comments, it is a busy time of year for sending greetings to friends and preparing for the mystery of hope, peace and love that was told to the shepherds out in the fields.

Here’s to more hours in the allotment in 2018 where greenery that was tossed into the compost bin has turned into rich friable soil to spread and help new growth.