September is a busy month in Local Government. It is common place that most of our teams will have been away on leave and will be returning to an increased workload. In a time of reduced resources this in itself would cause a pinch in terms of capacity but we often find ourselves also trying to find ingenious ways to raise income, make savings and improve services. Despite all of our best efforts this is often left to be done over a tight timescale by only the more senior officers and to meet the requirements of our finance colleagues rather than our customers. It is also usually the time that the Government choose to make announcements. Whilst the Autumn statement is always awaited with a mixture of anxiety and hope, there are other announcements which could begin to answer some of the questions that have been hanging around throughout the last Government and need answering by the current Government.
For me there are three things that would bring about the biggest changes in planning in Local Government.
It is not a panacea but I believe that through the consideration of the LPEG report and the experience of plan-making under the duty to cooperate model there is an inevitability to a return to strategic planning. It is clear that there is a need for a higher level of plan-making that sits in between the development plan and the NPPF. A plan where the overall numbers, the strategic infrastructure and general direction of growth can be decided. This would then free LPAs up to plan for the places that their communities want and need. It would allow for consideration of place rather than just a very long discussion about housing figures. After all, planners rarely enter the profession to crunch through statistics and defend the indefensible. Most of us feel that we have a role in creating better places for future generations.
We are told that the CIL review will report very soon. I am hopeful that there will be a recognition of and remedy for the current problems that the pooling restriction is creating. The restriction means that Councils find themselves in the unenviable position of either preventing what would otherwise be sustainable development or approving developments without the infrastructure that would otherwise have been required. It is not just the pooling restriction that creates problems for planners in the public sector. The ability to borrow against future receipts is essential if we want to see ambition and aspiration in terms of the levels of growth around some of our major urban areas. Most of all I'm looking for flexibility, one size does not fit all and I am convinced that decisions, plan-making and delivery would all be improved if Councils could choose the infrastructure funding mechanism that best suits their own local circumstances.
A recognition of the importance and value of planning and planners is essential if Local Government is to deliver on the plan-making and decision taking that is necessary to support the growth of our country. Local Planning Authorities are struggling to recruit and retain the necessary staff to maintain the expected level of service. The lucky Local Planning Authorities have the backing of both their Councillors and Senior Management Teams, planners are recognised for the role that they play in driving not only housing and economic growth but also in providing the drive and ambition for wider regeneration. Unfortunately, many Local Planning Authorities are not in this advantageous position. They suffer year on year cuts to funding, often lack a Chief Planner role and do not feature in discussions about their areas future. It would be a positive step forwards if the Government were to reconsider the statutory role of the Chief Planner in local government, ring fence planning income and link this to local fee setting.
We need a return to town planning in its truest sense. Creating an environment where planners can use their skill and influence to bring about positive change will not only bring about better places but also encourage young people to enter the profession. Here's hoping the Autumn announcements deliver on their promise.
Anna Rose, President 2016/17