Red tape blamed for lack of housing

‘Luke Johnson, chairman of Risk Capital Partners, says that attempts to build new housing are being hampered by “an antiquated planning system and rampant nimbyism”. 

He quotes Redrow chief executive Steve Morgan, whose company recently identified a site in the northwest on which to build new homes, but was told it had to meet 103 conditions in order to be given approval.

“A vibrant nation should promote innovation and reward risk takers. Red tape strangles such initiatives”, Mr Johnson concludes.

Source: Financial Times’

“Red tape strangles such initiatives” may sound like a reference to a destructive Communist recording, but ‘red tape’ is of course a well-worn phrase. In 16th century Spain, one would have found red tape being used to bind important documents while plain old rope was used to bind the less pressing ones. It’s believed that the Americans made such a knotty job of tying up their Civil War veterans’ papers with red tape that they made it notorious (or at least more notorious than it already had been).

So next time you hear ‘red tape’ being used pejoratively, remember that it has been maligned over the course of five centuries and make a mental note to help restore its good name, perhaps by putting some in your hair, tying my birthday present with it or having a rhythmic gymnastics moment with your most liberated clients. Because it’s not red tape that strangles initiatives: it’s the people tying it.

For an entertainingly literal depiction of red tape and many other familiar idioms, we recommend the 1951 Tex Avery cartoon Symphony in Slang.

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