Another year ends and the Government announces yet another round of budget cuts for Local Government. Although the Government trumpets only a 1.8% cut, the LGA reckons that the amount Councils will receive from Central Government is actually going down by 8.8%. And this is on top of four previous years of cuts with the prospect of more to come in future years.
Whilst this hits all Council services (other than education and adult care which are ring fenced) it is certain to hit hard pressed planning departments which in many parts of the Country are experiencing an upturn in application numbers and should be the very services to help deliver the Government's agenda of more homes and economic growth.
It really is time that the Government faced the fact that planning services need to be properly resourced and that the best way of achieving this is full cost recovery through a significant increase in planning fees. This is a key plank of the Society's manifesto and we continue to press Ministers and Government officials on this point. This had been achieved for Building Control since 2010 and a system of full cost recovery is urgently needed to maintain effective and efficient planning services.
At the last POS Board meeting earlier this month a draft of the Society's Business Plan for 2014-17 was discussed. The Plan aims to make the Society more proactive, undertaking research into key issues affecting public sector planning, developing policy and lobbying for relevant changes. One of the areas discussed was the resourcing of planning departments and the status of heads of planning. There seems little up to date information on this area and so the Board decided to commission new research to gain a better understanding of the current situation and develop a national benchmark for public sector planning services. This should assist hard pressed planners arguing for sufficient resources to run an effective planning service. We aim to do this in partnership with other organisations.
The last Forum meeting at Westminster City Hall picked up on the theme of demonstrating the benefit s of good planning to local communities. Ben Marshall, Research Director for Housing, Planning and Development at Ipsos MORI, gave a fascinating presentation into the public's perception of new development. This showed that 8 out of 10 of adults sampled agree that there is a housing crisis and 40% support new housing being built in their area with 28% opposing. On the other hand councillors thought that public opposition was the top barrier to new housing development. It appears that NIMBYism is probably being overplayed. Their research showed too that there is all to play for and opinion needs understanding and managing, especially in a localist context. Copies of Ben's presentation can be found on the POS website.
Malcolm Sharp, past President and member of the Lyons Commission, rounded up by presenting the key findings of the Commission's report into Housing (his presentation is also available on the website). Members present discussed how best the Society responded to the proposals as they affect planning. I am very grateful to Ben and Malcolm for such an informative and stimulating afternoon. All members are welcome to attend Forum meetings and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the next meeting.
Finally it remains for me to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year and to thank you for your support. Next year, with a general election as well as local elections, there will be opportunities to influence the future direction of government and the Society will do all it can to campaign on your behalf for quality public sector planning.
David Evans - President 2014/15