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RTPI report stresses value of planners in times of uncertainty

16 August 2016

Strategic leadership from local authority planners to spur public sector-led development is urgently needed when private developers are vulnerable from post-Brexit uncertainty, yet 73% % of planners in England feel changes to the planning system have reduced their ability to deliver, the RTPI says today.

A survey of planners working in England, published in a new report, reveals

  • 53 % of respondents think that planning reforms have hindered planners in ensuring more housing is built;
  • nearly 70% think they are less able to deliver the benefits of planning compared to 10 years ago.

The report from the RTPI – the voice of professional planning – warns that deep budget cuts and continual changes in planning policy over the last 30 years have stripped public sector planners of the powers and resources to perform leadership and coordinating roles.

It says in England it has resulted in a system that is more complicated and more uncertain, with a reduced ability to ensure that development is well-planned and connected to transport and facilities, and a narrower range and number of affordable housing to rent or buy.

Phil Williams, RTPI President, says:

“For too long planning has been relegated to a reactive, bureaucratic function, instead of being able to plan strategically to drive development, jobs and growth. We are hearing from our members a clear sense that deep budget cuts and constant changes have hindered their ability to operate strategically and perform a leadership role.

“Public sector planners’ ability to be proactive is especially important in these uncertain times. It is absolutely crucial we resource councils’ planning teams properly, so that planners can operate strategically.

“We want to see closer integration of planning activities with councils’ economic development and devolved areas of responsibilities to guide private sector investment and keep up the momentum for building.

“It is also vital that local authorities work more closely with each other and the private sector to address land supply issues and provide the certainty the market needs.”

It is absolutely crucial we resource councils’ planning teams properly, so that planners can operate strategically.

The report calls for:

  • stronger public sector-led management of land supply
  • a stronger private sector role in development partnerships (drawing on the lessons from Urban Regeneration Companies, Urban Development Corporations, and Enterprise Zones)
  • better resourced planning departments and more stable planning system that provides greater certainty for developers and communities.
  • better integration of planning activity with all kinds of infrastructure provision

Rob Groves, Regional Director of Argent LLP behind the Brindleyplace development in Birmingham, said:

“As many of our projects tend to be ‘problem’ sites in underperforming parts of cities, new thinking and imagination are needed to unlock their potential. These sites benefit from the clear overall policy framework provided by a local authority – which supports the type of transformative mixed-use development in which we specialise – combined with the experience and innovation of a developer.”

As many of our projects tend to be ‘problem’ sites in underperforming parts of cities, new thinking and imagination are needed to unlock their potential. These sites benefit from the clear overall policy framework provided by a local authority.

Barry Maynard from Linden Homes, developer of Fairfield Park in Bedfordshire, said: "The setting of the site and its surroundings gave us the opportunity to work closely with the Local Authority through the agreed Design Brief to create a stunning development in a Victorian vernacular taking significant design cues from the existing buildings."

“Delivering the Value of Planning” is the latest in the RTPI’s series of policy and research reports that advance the Institute’s thinking on better planning in the UK, Ireland and internationally.