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Planning Matters

July 2, 2020 10:10 AM
By Gary MacDonnell

There is much speculation in the media that the Conservative Government will make moves to change the current system around Planning Permissions. The clear inference drawn from rumours, noting that nothing official has yet been forthcoming, is that getting planning consent will become an easier and quicker process tied in with drive to get Britain building again. Bringing forward key large-scale developments and infrastructure works to operate as driving force in the post Covid 19 economic recovery.

We need to be careful. I'm in favour of investment in infrastructure. This country has ignored its infrastructure for too long. As a matter of principle, I also support large scale planned developments that bring with it the necessary infrastructure that all communities need - so called Garden Communities. Anything that allows an efficiency in bringing these types of developments forward should be discussed. However, the planning system exists to ensure that development is in the public interest, weighing up its economic, environmental and social benefits and drawbacks. It plays a key role in making sure the places where we live and work are attractive, vibrant and well designed.

Good planning aids development by providing certainty. It is important that local residents and the wider community are given the full picture and understand what proposals involve and all of their affects. It creates better places. Well planned areas create more wealth then poorly planned. We can all point to poor developments that have been deeply unpopular and in worst cases have to be redeveloped soon after they've been built. Good planning and the outcomes of a working and transparent planning system are popular.

What holds back the current planning can usually be traced to factors such as greed. As I write this the Secretary of State responsible for Planning (Robert Jenrick) is embroiled in controversy over a development he granted permission for, timed to avoid contributions back to the local authority, money that would have been invested in health care, schools and transport - investment to offset negative impacts of development on the local community. A hugely important part of a working planning system is that those financially benefitting pay to support local communities that don't. Other areas holding back development are related to profiteering such as prices and supply side matters are largely ignored.

The current planning system isn't perfect. What administrative system is? In my opinion where the current planning system falls is over long term planning looking over 15 years into the future. As it stands it tends to discourage transformative solutions as evidence is more difficult to produce. For long term infrastructure planning we need some form of long-term framework within which we can work; Regional Plans were one approach, another would be locally agreed non-statutory frameworks. Also, there needs to be a review on the amount and detail required in the myriad of documentation required as part of planning submissions. I see a lot of money producing products for planning, that go to consultancies but have little or no affect on either enabling others to understand the plan in question. A document produced at great cost that becomes a tick box exercise.

The planning system isn't perfect but get it wrong and there will be a backlash. A poor planning system without the right checks and balances could seriously undermine the government's economic ambitions as well as the climate change agenda. Happy for the government to review but tread carefully what is required is tweaking not wholesale rearrangement. Yes, lets get Britain building but continue to use the planning system to ensure it is the right type of building in the right places at the right time.