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The Science and Art of Planning

19 August 2013

It seems that a week does not go by that there is not a change or tweak in the planning system. This makes practising the science of planning difficult and presents two key challenges for the practitioner. Firstly, the necessity of keeping up to date with this flux of change; and secondly, the need to understand and interpret the changes to the planning system. Experienced planners know only too well that when there is a rash of changes there is a risk of unintended consequences. This of itself brings uncertainty.

Planning is fundamental to achieving growth that meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations.

Planning is fundamental to achieving growth that meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. To meet this challenge you need a highly developed planning system. And as practitioners we need a stable planning system. One in which we can demonstrate the added value that planning brings. A system that induces confidence from our citizens and from the business world alike. Continual tweaks and changes belies a focus on process. Constant changes to process have the potential to undermine confidence in the planning system and therefore, the perception of planning as a beneficial activity. Rather the focus should be on outcomes and the skills and expertise required to deliver them.

Study into the operation of planning committees in Wales

At the beginning of June I had a really enjoyable visit to Wales. As part of that visit I had the opportunity to take part in a discussion seminar at Cardiff City Hall as part of an RTPI Study into the operation of planning committees in Wales. The final report for the study was published in June this year. The study was undertaken because the Wales Government recognised the critical role that the planning committee plays in the planning system. The report is intended to provide part of the evidence base to inform Wales’ first Planning Reform Bill. The publication of this study is, I believe, timely. The recommendations arising from this work should be of interest to policy-makers in England.

The report found that there is a clear and continual tension between the roles that the local member when serving on a planning committee is asked to take on. It states that fulfilling the twin roles of decision-maker and local member cannot be achieved if all members are on the committee or if a member is not asked to choose which role is more pertinent to them on a case-by-case basis.

This research provides insights into the mechanics of decision-making and the balance between the role of the planning officer acting as expert advisor and the committee member elected to represent his or her community. Those who have presented at or attended planning committees will know they are the crucible in which the practising planner has to draw on all his or her skills and expertise. This public forum, in which the chartered planner has to explain the basis for recommendations, is very much related to the science of planning.

Perhaps now, at a time of such continuing change, it is opportune to take a lead from Wales and review the operation of planning committees in England.

Sir Terry Farrell

In July I had the opportunity of presenting with Sir Terry Farrell the Institute’s Awards for Planning Excellence. I was delighted to play a part in the awards as it presents an opportunity to showcase the practical outcomes of the art of town and country planning. Good planning has always been about enabling the right development in the right place and the right time The NPPF emphasises the importance of good design and the entrants to the Awards illustrate not only good design but good planning. The Institute’s Awards for Planning Excellence was an incredibly successful event and I for one was proud to be associated with it. We should all take pride not only in the successful entrants but all those short listed.