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Victoria Hills: Planners will be crucial to levelling up

Victoria Hills MRTPI FICE is Chief Executive at the RTPI 

Machinations at the top of Government have undoubtedly grabbed the public’s attention during the start of this year. We are no doubt all following the news and headlines as they roll into our social media feeds.

However, behind the headlines and the debates over parties there are issues going unaddressed that could have long lasting impacts on the planning system and the country as a whole. We are rapidly approaching the turn of the financial year and local authority budgets are being finalised. Sadly, from what I am hearing anecdotally it is likely that there will be difficult times ahead for some planning departments.

The additional budgetary pressures on Local Authorities in recent times could result in potentially deep cuts in other departments – including planning departments. Already under-resourced planners are eyeing excel spreadsheets with a nervous eye.

This comes at a time when we see that developers and homebuilders are highlighting the need to bolster planning departments in order to achieve house building targets. A report from the House Builders Federation last month included a key recommendation to ‘better equip planning departments’.

We have long argued the case for more resources to be given to planning, no matter where we land on the reforms question. 

Speaking of reform, we are currently waiting for the Government to publish the Levelling Up white paper. In December we wrote to the Secretary of State to argue the case that for the ambitions of Levelling Up to be achievable then planning will have to be integral. We hope that this will be recognised in the White Paper and will of course respond to the consultation in a constructive way. We already have a series of our own proposals, such as Green Growth Boards and attend regular meetings with Government. The RTPI will be keeping a close watch in the coming days, but it is our hope that the planning system will be provided with the adequate recognition and resourcing necessary to benefit housing delivery, better quality development and regional imbalances to create and shaping a community that citizens can be proud of.

I did not think I would be writing this in February 2022, but we are we’re yet to see a planning reform bill introduced in parliament. We have been assured that this will come and we are starting to see anecdotal evidence that the wait itself is now causing its own issues. There is a risk that without a clear indication on these reforms that local authorities and others will begin to pause their work on things like local plans to make sure that they would still be relevant in the new system.

Elsewhere and in an effort to help raise the profile of planning and planner incoming President Tim Crawshaw launched our new Planning Your World platform. This website has been specifically designed to help demystify the benefits of planning to the wider community. It highlights the people and the projects that improve the lives of people around the world, by developing access to green space, health and well-being, economic prosperity and so much more. It also highlights those professionals that are out there working tirelessly to achieve these outcomes.

If any of you have a project that you have been part of that you would like to be included in this great new public facing resource or indeed if you would like to be featured as one of our inspirational case studies please contact the RTPI communications team.

While I am trying to persuade you to illustrate the amazing community and social value that planning has, I would also encourage you to submit your entries for the RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence, which remain the gold standard in our sector. We have streamlined the process now, so that regional entries will have the opportunity to progress to the national awards. The winners will then go onto be included on Planning Your World to highlight the very best the profession has to offer.  

With so many opportunities to place planning front and centre we will surely be in a great position to inspire the next generation, which is apposite because this month includes National Apprenticeships Week in England. The theme will be 'build the future'; reflecting on how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop the skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career, and businesses to develop a talented workforce that is equipped with future-ready skills.

I’m sure you will agree that there is a great deal going on in our sector and the RTPI continues to make the case for planners and planning at every level.


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