Those not directly connected with planning or the built environment may have missed the fact that a major review of the planning system has been underway. Headed by the Town and Country Planning Association,  Nick Raynsford (whose previous career includes being Director of Shelter, MP and Shadow Minister for Housing and Construction) has built this report following months of research and analysis. The Interim Report was published in May.  It makes fascinating reading. 

The executive summary gives you a taster:

If there is one striking conclusion to be drawn from the work of the Raynsford Review to date, it is that the current planning system in England does not work effectively in the long-term public  interest of communities or the nation. Putting this right requires a forensic examination of the current planning system and the many myths which surround it.

(Raynsford Review Interim Report V6, vii)

Nine propositions are made, the first being that planning should be in the public interest (which currently often doesn’t happen). The report recognises that reliance on market mechanisms has been unable to deliver ‘a wide range of public interest outcomes’. The second proposition is to fill the void of what the purpose of planning is by setting its definition in legislation:

The purpose of the planning system is to positively promote the spatial organisation of land in order to achieve long-term sustainable development. In the Planning Acts, ‘sustainable development’ means managing the use, development and protection of land, the built environment and natural resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs.

The propositions continue with: a powerful, people-centred planning system; commitment to meeting people’s basic needs; simplified planning law; and alignment of infrastructure across agencies. Proposition 8 grapples with the need for ‘a fairer way to share land values’, to find a constructive way out from land speculation. It looks at three options, including ‘an element of betterment taxation, as part of capital gains tax, which should be directed towards regeneration in low-demand areas.’  Lastly, it recognises the essential element of planners themselves to be pulled up from their low morale, for them to culture imaginative, creative and visionary qualities ‘not to impose upon communities, but to inspire action by offering real options for the future of places’. To achieve this, it states, reform is needed for the education, ethics and professional development of planners. And finally this ‘requires a system, supported by necessary resources, that values high-quality and inclusive outcomes as much as it values speed of performance.’

You can read critique behind the lines – more importantly, you can read how to right these ills. That is, if only the government will adopt it.

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