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Victoria Hills: There's a new resident in No 10 with a daunting list of priorities

Victoria Hills MRTPI FICE is Chief Executive at the RTPI 

There is a new resident in No 10 Downing Street and while Liz Truss builds her government there is no question that she faces a daunting list of priorities.

The cost-of-living crisis, a continuing war in continental Europe, and a looming recession will no doubt be forefront of her mind. However, there are also elements of unfinished business that need to be overseen. I’m speaking of course about the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) which has been making its way through the legislative process since earlier this year, and the now chronic under-resourcing of the planning system.

I have already written to the new leader of the Conservative party to highlight the importance of not only the Bill but of the planning system as a whole. There is no doubt here at the RTPI that our country’s success depends on addressing the need for housing, resolving nutrient neutrality issues and continuing government’s reforms as quickly as possible to avoid delaying plans and investment. A strong, well-resourced plan-led system is vital if we are to level-up the whole of the country and deliver the best outcomes for everyone.

As part of our engagement with the Bill we have had some clear asks: Give communities greater say, reduce bureaucracy, and balance our housing environmental and other needs. The details of these requests and information on levelling up can be found on our dedicated hub and you can read a copy of my letter to the Prime Minister here.

There is also a longer running issue that is becoming increasingly important. Research just published by the RTPI as part of our Planning Agencies report illustrates the eye-opening resourcing challenge we face as a profession.

Total expenditure on planning fell by 43% since 2009/10, impacting every English region and dropping most in the North East (62%) and Yorkshire and The Humber (49%). As a result, public sector planning services find it more difficult to recruit and retain skilled staff and in 2021 they decided less than half of applications within statutory time limits – continuing a downward trend since 2010.

Our analysis also shows that proposed fee increases, though welcome, are vulnerable to inflation and would be lost in real terms if introduced in 2024 without necessary adjustments

Residents and businesses will struggle to access the housing, education, transport, energy and broadband they need to spark a new industrial revolution if their planning teams lack the necessary resources, skills and capacity to deliver them.

RTPI will continue to make the case for planning and already have plans to engage with policy-makers and legislators during party conference season. Furthermore our National Conference which we are jointly hosting with Planning Portal on the 17th and 18th of November will provide an opportunity for us all to discuss the important issues of the day. I would encourage you to book tickets as this year promises to be incredibly interesting.

I am also pleased to say that the winners of the RTPI research awards have been published on our website and clearly illustrate that our membership is investigating and studying important issues at the very heart of the planning system. The student Award in particular, which looks at the link between mental health and the built environment seems particularly apposite. Our President, Tim Crawshaw will this month spend three days walking across London and highlighting the link between the built environment and mental health. He is raising funds for CALM, the mental health charity and would also love it if members want to join him for portions of the walk. You can find a booking link on our site.

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