So, we are to have a delay to the receipt of the Planning Bill, with the Secretary of State confirming to the Select Committee that the government was taking stock and reflecting. ‘Zonal reforms’ look destined to be shelved and a new methodology has been signalled to set out housing requirements; the days of the Standard Method were perhaps numbered once it was tagged as an ‘algorithm’.
We all want an effective and efficient planning system. But this laudable ambition should not be confused with a slavish adherence to de-regulation. Surely, as a starting point we need clarity as to what we want our planning system to deliver and an honest conversation as to why is it not working? The Secretary of State advised that the government were listening and seeking views as to way forward. So, if I were asked, what would I say?
Firstly, I would argue there is nothing wrong with the planing system per se. It is in the operation the issues lie.
We have a plan-led system but the plans are taking too long to prepare. The duty to co-operate is simple in theory, challenging in practice. There is no need to remove/reform the consenting regime, we are all comfortable and understand the tiers of consent. We’ve just gotten into the habit of re-examining the same point or principle at each and every stage. We do however need clarity as to what matters are addressed at allocation, outline/full and then reserved for later determination, with parallel assessments (EIA and AA) addressing the point of principle.
Second... let's strip back planning to consider only planning matters.
We should use other regulations and procedures to address or control those matters that were or are intended. Building performance and building safety for example are a matter for regulation, not something to be weighed in the ‘planning balance’. Use building regulations to address building performance and safety and a licensing regime to address hours of use and licensing matters, especially now we have Class E. Any dissatisfaction with Building Regulations is not a reason to burden planning.
We also need a holistic approach, not different targets or standards from one borough to another. As a child, I remember driving through a London borough in the back of an Austin Maxi where the signs on the lamp post announced that we were now entering a ‘nuclear free zone’ and thinking how odd that the whole of the country could be flattened save for a south London borough.
Third.... lets fill the gap.
Whilst I have repeatedly been told not to mention structure plans, we have a gap at strategic planning which the Duty to Co-operate is struggling to fill. The Oxfordshire Plan, which has recently finished a round of consultation, shows what can be done as an alternative perhaps to the move towards unitary authorities. Unless and until this gap is filled, the adoption of local plans will continue to struggle.
We of course now have a new name for the government department responsible for all this. Levelling up is a political initiative but the planned distribution of investment and infrastructure is surely a core factor of strategic planning at a national level? Why can’t the planning bill include a commitment for a national plan?
We have a tremendous opportunity to place town planning at the centre of the debate as to the future of our communities. It can go several ways. The need to drive efficiency should not be confused with a slavish adherence to the mantra of deregulation and the need for whole ‘reform’. We need a properly resourced and proud town planning service at all levels of government, attracting the brightest and most innovative of minds, committed to taking forward our society into the 21st Century. And if we did, maybe then one day, everyone will understand the role town planners can and do play in shaping our communities, and there might even be a new episode of the legendary children’s TV show, that sees Peppa Pig learning about/celebrating our profession?
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Planning Reform, Planning Bill, Build Back Better