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Joel Cohen: Parliamentary Dispatch – January 2023

Joel Cohen is Senior Public Affairs Officer at the RTPI

The way some tell it, parliamentarians returning to Westminster for another year, felt planning reform fighting for headspace alongside their post-NYE hangover.

Powered by Berocca many junior staffers have made it through 15 chapters of confusing, repetitive and - lets be honest, - sometimes niche NPPF reform proposals. Alongside it on their (digital) desks are fat stacks of paper. Departmental briefings, newly published Impact Assessments, copies of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and (unusually long) reports on the Secretary of State’s intended delegated powers. Together they help to explain exactly what Government is thinking; why and what they should do to change it.

“Never fear”, we’ve said. “The RTPI are here to help bring you up to speed.”

LURBing Lords 

The RTPI’s Public Affairs team started the year by briefing Lords to assess the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and prepare their contributions for its first piece of parliamentary scrutiny in the upper chamber.

Government haven’t exactly made it easy for peers of the realm. Many have been surprised to find that Minister’s recent concessions on housing targets are currently beyond the scope of their debate because the NPPF isn’t subject to parliamentary debate. They’ve also found that the Bill itself does not explain how many of the new powers requested by Government will be used because key details are not yet published or may be subject to future consultations.

At the Lords Second Reading we heard dismay at the levels of centralised control proposed in the Bill, that the environment and climate change were too rarely mentioned, and that social and affordable housing provision may reduce under these proposals.

Peers also gave testimony on some of the key asks made by the RTPI: that planning needs adequate resourcing to deliver on the Bill’s promises, that new National Development Management Policies require tighter scrutiny, that environmental protections must be strengthened in our planning system and that devolution must help – not prevent – areas from deciding how their areas should be regenerated.

Unlike in the Commons - where electoral calculus is king – members of the Lords can be more familiar with the technical detail of how our planning system functions, more aware of the potential impact of reforms and are more willing to challenge the government when needed to improve legislation.

We’re now working with peers across the house to make sure the Bill strengthens England’s planning system, sets realistic expectations and helps our profession to deliver levelling up in the most effective and appropriate ways for their area. Keep an eye on our social media channels for regular updates about our progress.

Making Ministers take notice

Both vehicles of planning reform, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, and changes to the NPPF, have confirmed that planners are a key driver of change now and in the future. Developers know it, Councillors know it and now we have more reason to think Ministers get it too.

As a result of our efforts, the Housing Minister, Lucy Frazer MP, has become the first in several years to confirm this Government’s commitment to helping planners.

In a recent letter, the Minister recognised the capacity and capability challenges faced by the local planning authorities and wider planning sector, as well as the shortfall between the income from planning fees and the cost of processing planning applications. She also noted the important role of strategic planning, stating that effective town planning requires a coordinated approach between local authorities and for them to work together across a geography that better reflects daily life and transcends administrative boundaries. You can read the full letter we received here.

On behalf of the RTPI’s members, our executive, public affairs and policy teams will continue to work closely with advisers and officials in the department to make sure that these issues are dealt with as comprehensively and effectively as possible at the highest levels.

Speaking up for RTPI Policy

As we’ve found, Ministers and parliamentarians take RTPI members’ experiences, views and expectations very seriously because our profession sees the challenges and opportunities more clearly and comprehensively than any other. Your views are fundamental to the RTPI’s work steering the course of planning reform and safeguarding delivery on the ground.

The public affairs team are paying close attention to your thoughts on immediate changes to the NPPF and expect lots of our work this year to flow from your input into the RTPI’s consultation response.

We had the privilege to observe the London region’s NPPF policy roundtable a few weeks ago. The two-hour discussion we heard was broad, insightful and an incredible reminder of just how impressive planning professionals are.

If you’ve not yet done so, we’d strongly encourage RTPI members to lend us your thoughts at an upcoming roundtable. Take a look here for more details about the consultation and opportunities to participate. 


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