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Victoria Hills: A productive year for planning

As we near the end of the year and get ready to enjoy the festive season, I want to take a moment to look back on the past year and look forward to the future. I can’t see a better way to begin than with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which (nearly) started and ended the year.

Last year, on 22 December, as businesses were drawing to a close for the holiday season, Government began the consultation process for the NPPF. It therefore seemed fitting that, again, on Tuesday this week, I was sat in front of the lectern as Secretary of State Michael Gove MP announced the updated NPPF.

One of my most significant takeaways from the event was the considered use of language by Mr Gove, who acknowledged the pivotal role of planners in shaping local areas. His call for increased respect and recognition for planners resonated with the core message of our "It Takes Planners" campaign, which aims to transform public discourse about planning and planners, emphasising the vital role they play in crafting liveable, healthy communities.

As well as seeing a positive change in tone when speaking of planning, I left feeling that the updates to the NPPF and performance measures by Mr. Gove could fortify Local Planning Authorities operating under challenging conditions if properly implemented, fostering enhanced housing delivery. For an in-depth analysis, I encourage you to read insights from our head of policy and research, Richard Blyth, and our policy manager, Daniel Slade.

While this doesn't signify the conclusion of our governmental relations efforts, it serves as a positive milestone in what has been a constructive year for planning in England.

For a long time, the RTPI has made our call for increased resources to the planning system a central pillar of our work, both in our public facing messages and in conversations with Government, stating that planners cannot do more with less in perpetuity. This year, in England, it feels as though our message has finally broken through.

Looking ahead to the next year, our focus will be on leveraging the lessons learned from 2023 to advocate for a package of support for the devolved nations.

In 2023, we’ve seen a rise in planning fees, and the establishment of the Planning Skills Delivery fund, with £14m announced this week going directly to local authority planning departments. We have also seen the continued growth of apprenticeships, investment into pathways to planning through the Local Government Association and Planning Advisory Service, as well as substantial funding for Public Practice, in which we are a partner, which aims to attract diverse talent into local government.

Together, this comprehensive support package, which we have championed and advocated for, will help provide the resources that our planning system so desperately needs to meet the country’s net zero ambitions, tackle the housing crisis, and address the health and wellbeing of our aging population.

Looking ahead to the next year, our focus will be on leveraging the lessons learned from 2023 to advocate for a package of support for the devolved nations. We must ensure that planning services across the UK and Ireland receive increased resources, not just those in England. This funding not only supports our members in local authorities but also those in the private sector, and I am confident in the readiness of our members to mobilise in response to this funding.

As we relax for the holiday season, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to all our members for their unwavering commitment, professionalism and hard work throughout the year. Your contributions are invaluable in creating sustainable, inclusive, and thriving communities.

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