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President's Blog July 2017

Date: 7/7/2017

The one thing that all of us who work in the public sector know is that change is inevitable and that the pace of that change seems to be insatiable. Whilst we would all acknowledge that positive change can be a good thing it could also be argued that for the planning system to work, as well as it possibly can do, then it also needs appropriate periods of 'productive stability'. But more of that later.

We are now several weeks into the life of this new Parliament and therefore it may now be opportune to consider what this new Government has said, or indeed not said, regarding the future operation of the planning system.

In terms of context in their 2017 Manifesto the Conservative Party emphasised that they would still be looking to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020, as they had previously committed to do in their 2015 manifesto, and on top of that they also set out their intention to deliver an additional half a million more homes by the end of 2022. To support that ambition they also outlined their proposals to enter into new Council Housing Deals and give greater flexibility to housing associations in order to increase their stock.

Now they are again in Government, albeit with a potentially reduced ability to practically legislate, it will be very interesting to see how they now plan to bring forward/implement the delivery of their intended planning reforms.

At this point it's worth mentioning the sense of disappointment over the 'loss' of Gavin Barwell, from his Ministerial position, because there was a general industry wide appreciation that he had a good grasp of his brief and that he was willing to listen to all points of view. We will all have to wait to see how the new Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Alok Sharma MP, intends to take up the challenge.

As we are all aware the Housing White Paper, February 2017, had given us a strong indication of the proposed direction of travel in terms of the Government simultaneously 'encouraging' and 'requiring' local authorities to be more proactive LPA's. However I think there will be a shared appreciation that to potentially deliver the quantum of new homes they are again talking about, those White Paper 'proposals' will now need to be speedily enacted and delivered upon.

Subsequently, in the Queens' Speech, the Government placed further explicit emphasis upon the need to help ensure that more homes are actually being built. Specifically it was stated that, "in order to fix the dysfunctional housing market, we need to build more of the right homes, in the right places, and ensure that the market works for all parts of our community." Particular reference was again also made to the intended ongoing delivery of the 'reforms' proposed in the White Paper in order to increase transparency around the control of land, to speed up build-out and to diversify who builds.

Accordingly I have to say that it was extremely disappointing to immediately note that the intended implementation of the proposed optional 20% ring-fenced planning fee increase (which nearly every LPA has opted for) has been postponed until some point later in the year, with the general indications being that "autumn will be a more likely timescale". We can only hope that this is a minor hiccup as POS, working in a very constructive partnership with the development industry, had lobbied hard for more resources to be made available and specifically directed towards the delivery of appropriately responsive public sector planning services. We must hope that this new Government recognises that for the planning system to work well all parties need the ability, and access to the necessary available resources, to do a good job.

As we are all aware it is via the creation of new, and the adaptation of existing, planning policy whereby the Government can most readily seek to directly influence the operation of the planning and development process. Accordingly it is probably a good bet to anticipate that, after the upcoming summer recess (or possibly before if the press coverage of Sajid Javid's LGA speech is to believed), we may see another round of announcements aimed at encouraging the delivery of sustainable forms of development (and especially with regard to more home building).  I think that all public sector planners, will need to be prepared, like good Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, to be able to appropriately respond to and proactively embrace those initiatives.

Now back to where I began, over the past few years there has been considerable, and almost a constant degree of flux, with all previous Governments wanting to put their own mark on the operation of the planning process. All parties involved in 'planning' have previously voiced their concerns regarding a situation whereby it could be argued the system can only be ineffective if it's operating in a constant state of adaptation. Therefore we have all repeatedly requested an appropriate period of stability within which to be able to provide certainty and to concentrate on delivery. I hereby strongly reiterate that request - we do need a period of stable policy, or as stable as it possibly can be, so that all public sector planning bodies can rightly focus on delivering the growth required to meet the needs of our communities.

Notwithstanding that, and in spite of whatever does come our way, please be assured that POS will continue to be at the forefront both in terms of positively influencing the development of national planning policy and with regard to the dissemination of best practice across all of the public sector.

Steve Ingram, President 2017/18

Steve Ingram President 17_18_web.jpg

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