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President's Blog October 2017

Date: 11/10/2017

At the end of last month I was invited to speak at the National Planning Forum about the Raynsford Review of Planning.

The Review, which is being championed by the Town and Country Planning Association, has been set up to identify and consider how the Government could positively reform the English planning system.

The Forum event was to gather views regarding the principles of the review and the discussion question was about what kind of planning does England need? In response I outlined that I wanted the planning system to be;

Equitable and Accessible in its approach

Because we live on a crowded island, where people care about and value their environment, planning really matters, and as we all know nothing stimulates real community engagement like a good 'planning' argument.

But for the planning process to work well we need it to be appropriately balanced, equitable and accessible in its approach.

What I mean by that is that all parties, both promoters of, and those potentially affected by, development can understand, appreciate and thereby value the scrutiny by the wider community which is fundamental to the local planning process.

Access to knowledge about what is being proposed and having the ability to make your views known are the foundations of a healthy planning system. From my experience if people have the opportunity to understand the rationale underpinning proposals and feel that they have had access to a 'fair hearing' then they can more readily engage with its outcomes.

Accordingly I think it is vital that the 'development proposals', that will potentially impact upon the things that people really value, need to be subject to the scrutiny and rigour of the planning process.

Therefore the continuing expansion of large scale permitted rights is a particular current bug-bear of mine. Whilst we all appreciate that 'permitted development' rights can be a very effective tool to deal with relatively uncontentious development matters (i.e. small extensions and minor changes of use) I'm unconvinced that they can be so readily applied to proposals that could give rise to far greater potential impacts.

For example, I'm really not convinced that the application of extensive permissive pd rights to large scale office to residential conversions or with regard to the creation of multiple new homes in the open countryside can be considered to be in the wider public interest. Surely, proposals of that nature, which if they are poorly conceived and implemented can have demonstrable detrimental impacts upon both their immediate and wider environments, need to go through the planning process.

The scrutiny of the planning process can also help to ensure that such proposals are actually achieving what is intended. For example if the new raft of rural building conversions are genuinely intended to provide homes for local people/for rural workers then we need to allow the planning process to appropriately evaluate the rationale underpinning those proposals and then for the planning permission to be able to impose suitable occupancy conditions.

Suitably Resourced

My second point relates to the current funding, resourcing and capacity challenge that all Local Planning Authorities are facing.

For our planning system to work well then both sides of the process need to be appropriately resourced. Promoters and applicants need to be able to make well informed high quality submissions and the relevant LPA needs to have the resources to retain the skills and capacity required to appropriately shape, evaluate and determine those proposals.

As we all know poor planning outcomes are indeed 'bad' because we all have to live for a long time with the unintended consequences. Accordingly it is essential that the local planning process, if it is to be effective in delivering all the required wider community outcomes, is appropriately resourced.

Therefore POS, the British Property Federation and many others have strongly argued for an appropriately targeted and ring-fenced increase in planning fees in order to help deliver the planning services we would all want.

Whilst it wouldn't be a panacea for all our immediate ills it will help ease many hard pressed Planning Service budgets, so let's hope that the Government can now readily take forward the required legislation to now make good on that promise.

However be assured that resourcing will remain at the forefront of POS's engagement with the Government and with all the other interested parties.

Delivery and Outcome Focused

Finally, I am utterly convinced that for planning to remain credible, in the eyes of both its users and those potentially affected by development, it has to be the process that delivers the high quality, sustainable, developments that we all would want to see.

Perhaps our biggest challenge is to deliver the development outcomes that our communities want. The planning process is an incredibly powerful tool that can achieve great things but I think that it has to become even more delivery and therefore outcome focussed.

Accordingly I'm actually a supporter of the thinking underpinning the potential imposition of the 'Delivery Test' on Local Authorities. I say that because, being the vintage I am, I've seen far too many potentially game changing planning strategies simply gathering dust rather than being implemented.

Therefore to my mind the grant of planning permission has to become far more the proactive 'start' rather than the 'end' of the Local Authority's involvement in the development process.

We all need the planning process to add value - and I believe, with appropriate support for its fundamental principles, it can continue to do that.

Steve Ingram, President 2017/18

Steve Ingram President 17_18_web.jpg


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