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Localism must not miss the bigger picture on planning

05 August 2010

A uniquely wide-ranging group of 29 national bodies have written to the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, to urge national and local government to work with them to ensure that strategic planning – planning at the 'larger-than-local level' - is embedded in any reform of the planning system under the new agenda for localism.

Ann Skippers, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) said:

\"Ministers need to be very careful not to miss the bigger picture as the localism agenda gathers pace. Communities need some level of strategic thinking beyond the local level to deliver many of the things they want, such as hospitals, transport links, waste management and flood protection. The most pressing issues facing the nation, for example, such as the housing crisis, economic recovery, climate change and biodiversity loss, cannot be dealt with solely at a local level.\"

\"We have come together to offer to work with the Coalition Government and local authorities to help to develop thinking, policies and systems for planning to encourage and support joint planning across local authority boundaries so that the localism agenda may be used to enable democratic strategic planning to take place\".

The 29 signatories to the letter (see notes to editors) represent key voices in the environment, enterprise and business, communities, development, the professions and planning. A full list is available at the end of this press release.

These organisations have noted a number of the recent announcements by ministers which demonstrate a continued role for strategic planning, including the encouragement for local authorities or other groups to work together and statements about Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Regional Growth Fund. However, the organisations feel that some aspects of the planning reforms may also hinder solutions to the housing crisis, to investment in enterprise in different parts of the country, to providing a lead to tackle climate change, to rapidly expanding renewable energy infrastructure and to reversing biodiversity loss.

The organisations which have signed the letter understand 'planning at the larger than local level' to mean any form of planning – statutory or otherwise – which enables communities and groups of communities to express a vision for the future of an area wider than their own locality. This approach to planning sets out priorities for investment and solutions to problems which must, of necessity, be addressed beyond neighbourhood or district boundaries. Importantly it can provide certainty to investors, infrastructure providers, community initiatives, developers and enterprises and help secure a prosperous and sustainable future for the country.

For further information please contact:

Tino Hernandez Head of Marketing and Communications, RTPI, 0207 929 9494/ 07830879274

Notes to editors

1. RTPI: The Royal Town Planning Institute
The RTPI, which co-ordinated the letter, is the largest professional institute for planners in Europe, with over 23,000 members who serve in government, local government and as advisors in the private sector. It is a charity with the purpose to develop the art and science of town planning for the benefit of the public as a whole. As well as promoting spatial planning, RTPI develops and shapes policy affecting the built environment, works to raise professional standards and supports members through continuous education, training and development.

2. Text of letter to Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP:

Dear Secretary of State

Larger than Local Planning

This letter is signed by a uniquely wide-ranging group of twenty nine national bodies who have come together with a shared concern to ensure that the planning system (including its policies and practice) offers an effective framework to deliver the Government's objectives in terms of the economy, the environment, sustainable development and social policy.

Our particular focus is that level of planning which Ministers have called \"democratic decision-making that is larger than the local, but smaller than the national\". We are writing to seek a meeting between you and representatives of this group to establish how best we may work with Government to ensure that this level of planning can be developed jointly as an integral part of the Government's localism agenda and how its practice can be encouraged.

Our initiative is driven by twin concerns. First, we wish to ensure that any new Government policies truly improve the ability of the system to deliver positive outcomes for communities. Secondly, we wish to ensure that this larger than local planning and investment – which we term strategic planning – is carried out to address the most pressing issues facing the nation such as economic recovery, meeting housing need and demand, sustainable transport, regeneration, sustainable development and growth, investment in our infrastructure, biodiversity loss, climate change, and reducing inequality.

We support the drive to enable communities to contribute to, and take, those planning and investment decisions that are best taken at the neighbourhood level and to play a full role in implementing those decisions.

We feel that as part of this drive it is vital to develop new forms of inclusive strategic planning and investment. Strategic planning should be taken, in this context, to mean any form of planning – statutory or otherwise – which enables communities and groups of communities to express a vision for the future of an area wider than their own.

This level of planning is needed where there is the need to set out priorities for investment and solutions to problems which must, of necessity, be addressed beyond neighbourhood or district boundaries. It comes into play in order to ensure that investment in major infrastructure best serves both the needs of local communities and the wider area and is most cost-effective.

It is necessary to ensure an integrated approach to the protection and enhancement of the environment and to prevent loss of biodiversity and where any decisions taken locally have a wider than local impact. This level of planning is important to ensure that climate change is addressed at a level – such as water catchment areas – where intervention can be most effective. Importantly, this level of planning can help to provide much needed certainty to investors, social and physical infrastructure providers, community initiatives, transport providers and operators, developers and local enterprises.

We recognise the initiatives that the Government has already taken on strategic planning and investment, including the encouragement for local authorities or other groups and bodies to come together to undertake joint planning and the announcements about Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Regional Growth Fund. We are pleased to see a national planning framework announced in the Coalition Agreement and the national infrastructure plan announced in the recent Budget.

We will engage with Government in this process in a positive, constructive manner and are committed to fresh thinking that may, on occasion, be challenging to all sides in this discussion. Part of this challenge will be in highlighting where aspects of planning reform may do damage to the longer term well-being of the nation. We are already concerned that some aspects of the Government's proposals may potentially hinder solutions to providing much needed housing in appropriate locations, to investment in enterprise and to providing a lead on tackling climate change.

Therefore, we look forward to working with the Coalition Government, with other relevant private, voluntary and public sector bodies and groups and, importantly, with local government to develop policy and to provide thinking and advice on the ways that strategic planning and investment can achieve the outcomes that the Government desires. We particularly wish to engage, as a matter of priority, with officials from your Department during the drafting of the Decentralisation and Localism Bill.

As a first step, we are writing to ask for an early meeting between you and representatives of the bodies signing this letter. Such a meeting is, we believe, particularly urgent now that RSSs have been revoked and there is the need to limit any adverse impacts that this may have on investment whilst communities consider and implement alternative approaches.

Signed on behalf of, and with the support of:

Association of Building Engineers

Association of Consultant Architects

Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport

British Property Federation

British Urban Regeneration Association

Campaign to Protect Rural England

Campaign for Better Transport

Chartered Institute of Housing

Construction Industry Council

Country Land and Business Association

Environmental Protection UK

Freight on Rail

Friends of the Earth

Institute of Historic Building Conservation

Institution of Civil Engineers

Institution of Structural Engineers

Landscape Institute

Local Government Technical Advisers Group

National Housing Federation

Planning Officers Society

Rail Freight Group

Royal Institute of British Architects

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Royal Town Planning Institute



Town and Country Planning Association

UK Green Building Council