The RTPI's Planning Convention 2010 got off to a great start on Tuesday 29th June, with powerful keynote speeches from RTPI President Ann Skippers and new Decentralisation Minister the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP (pictured right)- his first major address.
Ann Skippers gave a passionate and forthright defence of planning and how it contributes to the benefit of society, watched by both Clark and the new Local Government and Planning Minister Bob Neill MP. She told the ministers that the Institute strongly advocates the need for a level of planning that co-ordinates development, investment and infrastructure between different areas, provides a wide range of environmental policies, especially to mitigate climate change and ensures that the needs of the wider community are properly addressed.
Ann said there was great potential in the principle of localism but said the Institute is urging, and will continue to urge, the government to ensure that planning at the larger-than-local level is embedded in the new system. The RTPI believes, Ann told the audience of over 600, in fresh thinking and is looking at ways in which localism can deliver, enabling greater democratic thinking and planning in the future.
However, in the meantime it is crucial that proper transitional arrangements be put in place so that this inevitable period of uncertainty does not result in the loss of impetus, a fall-off in commitment from those involved, or the loss of skills and innovative work built up over many years. Ann stressed that the RTPI will work constructively with the new Government.
The RTPI wanted to help develop a system which really works and one that is supported by good practice. 'Planning is not the problem. It is a very big part of the solution.'
• Read Ann Skippers speech here
Having listened to Ann's speech, Greg Clark took to the stage and bravely left his speaking notes to one side. He said that he had seen at first hand how local passions could be raised by planning issues, but said that he felt that the widespread antipathy towards development across society was disappointing.
Stating that his aim was 'to turn this situation round', he said that through localism and devolving power, local authorities could use their own initiative, as towns like Tunbridge Wells were able to do over previous centuries. He said that development of the right kind can be something to be proud of, and highlighted the popularity of places such as St Mark's Square as an example of this.
Less top down
Clark said that even his predecessor John Healey had recently admitted that he thought that planning had become too 'top down', and the Minister argued that he believed that 'the planning system had been very good at generating housing target numbers but not houses on the ground.' He believed that 'if you tell British people what to do then they will find ways to subvert and delay it' and so the Government would be moving to a more localised and less 'top down' system in which he said that people would be 'empowered to act in a diverse way'.
He pointed out that unlike other areas where discussion was necessary, localism was one area in which the Coalition Government partners had virtually no disagreements.
The Coalition Government would remove the pre-determination rules which stopped local councillors expressing opinions on development and planning applications, and said that although he thought that Sir MIchael Pitt of the Infrastructure Planning Commission was very talented, he did not think that such important decisions should be taken by unelected individuals and so legislation would ensure that decisions on infrastructure applications would in future be decided by the Secretary of State. (RTPI reaction)
Furthermore National Policy Statements would be voted on by Parliament, which he believed would actually strengthen then when it came to the possibility of judicial review.
Duty to Cooperate
Clark stated that he understood the RTPI's point on strategic planning (that there has to be some kind of statutory framework between the local and the national) and so the 'Decentralisation and Localism Bill' expected in the Autumn would contain a clause that would make co-operation between authorities mandatory.
He said that he would welcome the RTPI's promise to 'scrutinise the bill line by line and page by page' when the Bill was published and welcomed working with the RTPI.
You can see the Minister's full speech via the RTPI's channel on YouTube and the written version on CLG's site.