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Gove has started a new chapter of planning reform

For some this week marks the start of the summer break. For many planners – and RTPI staff – it marks the start of a new chapter for planning reform.

In this initial review, the RTPI’s Policy and Communications teams get to grips with a busy day of announcements from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on Monday 24th July.

What is clear at this early stage, however, is that some of the issues and concerns RTPI has been raising in recent years seem to be being noticed; resourcing, planning fees and skills funding all made it into the secretary of state's speech and have been key asks of the institute for some time.

Joel Cohen, Senior Public Affairs Officer, responds to the Secretary of State’s speech:

How far we’ve come. Back when levelling up was little more than a slogan the Royal Town Planning Institute worked hard to make the case for planning’s fundamental role in the mission government set itself. We talked about planner’s ability to bring communities together and gathered together every piece of evidence at our disposal to show how the profession’s work underpins public services.

Then the Levelling Up White Paper was published and testified to the planning system’s vital role. “Practically, and on a strategic level, we welcomed the [resulting] Bill,” Victoria Hills told the House of Commons, “because we welcome the recognition that, rather than having a planning Bill, planning is integral to levelling up and regeneration.” Since then we’ve responded by making the case for sufficient funding, lobbied for coherent policy and requested support from all levels of government.

Today, we have seen Ministers go beyond just giving recognition to the value of planners, and beyond just clear commitments of further funding for planning services. We’ve heard the purpose Michael Gove MP wants our planning system to deliver (“a 10% increase in our cities population potentially unlocking a £20bn increase in UK GDP” he said). To realise this potential we also heard clear statements of political will that put planning and planners in the centre of the action.

RTPI members will have their own views of the specific proposals put forward this week and their likely effectiveness. But before we get into that debate its important to reflect on the new opportunities this political context gives us to raise the profile of our planning system and the professionals that drive it. Watch this space.

Dr Daniel Slade, England Policy Manager, responds to the ‘Long-term plan for housing’:

Yesterday saw a remarkable slew of new policy proposals from DLHUC. They were remarkable for several reasons…

First, though many had been trailed, the sheer range of issues these proposals covered was bewildering: local plans, viability, planning in investment zones, hope value and development corporations, community land trusts, area-specific regeneration and development, the Office for Place, water supply, capacity and capability were all in the mix.

It will take time to unpick the details, and criticisms are already emerging from some quarters, particularly regarding the proposals around viability and densification, and the extent to which these proposals will really address the structural challenges that the planning system in England faces.

But it is worth noting how many of the topics look like ‘wins’ for the RTPI. This is the second remarkable thing about these proposals. DLUHC is clearly giving serious consideration to the system’s resourcing challenges – something the RTPI has been campaigning on for a long time. The rise in planning fees, skills funding, and reproduction of an ATLAS-type body are all significant and follow the campaigning and political discussions we’ve been having this year.

Third, and what was perhaps academically interesting, is that these proposals were spun into something approaching a spatial vision for England. It might not be the spatial vision that many want, and its outcome will depend on a huge number of practical considerations, but it does prioritise a kind of spatial development – densification – and name particular places across the country that are being targeted for urban transformation. For better or for worse, we have not had such a clearly defined urban policy for a long time.

The team at Botolph Lane are continuing to review the policy detail announced this week and will be sharing more analysis of the nuts and bolts soon. In the meantime, you can check out our work on reforms to national planning policy here.

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