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Planning arms us for tomorrow’s problems, not just today’s

The RTPI’s Senior Public Affairs Officer, Joel Cohen, reflects on the Chancellor’s Spring Statement:

Where were you at 1PM on Wednesday 23rd March? If you chose to have a lunch break or crack on with your workload - or do really anything else - instead of finding the nearest TV and cranking up the volume on BBC Parliament for the Chancellor’s Spring Statement: consider yourself forgiven. You didn’t miss much.

Planners and other built environment professionals will support the announcement of new measures to remove VAT from the installation of domestic solar panels and wind turbines and will hope that innovative SMEs can take advantage of business rates exemption for companies investing in green technology.

But what the Chancellor has said on radio and TV stations since leaving the dispatch box explains more about the UK’s political climate than the man in charge of our economy had perhaps intended.

His comments should lead everyone to reflect on planning’s contribution to the UK’s future prospects more seriously.

On BBC Radio 4 this morning Rishi Sunak said, “I wish I could make sure that we protect everyone against all aspects of [global inflationary pressures] but it’s impossible for anyone in my job to do that.”

“What we can do” he continued, “is make a difference where we can…”

In other words, the costs of living (and building) are increasing but the Government’s belief in what can be achieved has limits.

So Government can cut fuel duty temporarily but not the distance that Britons travel to work, shop or socialise or the way they travel for the foreseeable future.

Government can reduce the cost to retrofit green alternative energies in our homes for now but not think more holistically about how to integrate these technologies into the towns and landscapes where we live in a more sustainable way.

It is understandable that Government is seeking to draw clear limits for public investment given the amount invested during the pandemic.

But it is also clear that public spending achieves less when it focuses on short-term fixes and excludes long-term solutions.

I don’t doubt that the inflationary pressures eased in the Spring Statement would be reduced today if council planning department budgets had been maintained not reduced over the last decade.

I am equally sure that more will be needed to protect living standards, industry and our environment in future unless this trend is reversed.

For example, planner’s advice and interventions can improve the delivery of sustainable housing and infrastructure, enforce energy efficiency standards and bring people closer to job opportunities and nature.

Ultimately planners lift our country’s horizons and increase the ambition we need to sustain our economy, reduce the costs of poor health to our NHS and influence public attitudes and behaviours to make our way of life more sustainable.

The RTPI’s public affairs team will continue to advocate in Parliament and behind the scenes for long-term solutions backed by investment and is committed to making the case and demonstrating the evidence base that shows what is possible.

We’ll also bring the RTPI member’s expertise to bare on issues in practice and governance that maximise the benefits of investment in planning as with the National Model Design Code supplementary advice that the RTPI have published today.

We believe firmly that planning is a ‘spend to save’ solution for some of the 21st Century’s most pressing challenges. Without it, fixing today’s problems could make tomorrow’s more difficult to solve.

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