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President's Letter in Financial Times: Let's talk about the benefits that planning can bring

27 February 2012

Colin HaylockFinancial Times, 27 February

Sir,

I was surprised to read further comment last week from Michael Ball (23 Feb) still supporting the widely discredited claim that planning delays cost the economy billions of pounds each year.

Prof Ball makes heroic assumptions based on a 20-year-old study which looked at a regulatory system, part of which included planning, that no longer exists.

After the chancellor said in the House that "the planning costs in Britain are among the highest in the world and delays among the worst in the world", the Royal Town Planning Institute submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for evidence for this assertion. The Treasury replied saying: "I can confirm that after a search of our records the Treasury does not hold any recorded information within the scope of your request". The RTPI and, subsequently, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, took this to mean that the Treasury had no evidence.

As surprising is Prof Ball's claim that "planning approval" takes over a year. This is another myth. A report from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) last July found only 0.7 per cent of planning applications take longer than 12 months to reach a decision. Government statistics also show that, for at least a decade, more than 80 per cent of all planning applications have been granted, a figure which rises to about 90 per cent for major commercial applications.

If we want to see what planning can do for complex development and large-scale regeneration, we need to look no further than the planning of the Olympic Park, which has just won the Judges Special Award in this year's RTPI National Planning Awards.

Planning is part of the solution to the challenges we face as a nation.  Let us talk about the benefits that planning can bring rather than simplistic unsubstantiated arguments about its cost.

Colin Haylock, President, Royal Town Planning Institute