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RTPI and POS join forces to urge government rethink on strategic planning

28 May 2010

A joint statement by the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Planning Officers Society. 

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Planning Officers Society (POS) represent all the professionals involved in planning in the private and public sectors – including those at the highest levels in local government – and a range of groups and individuals, including some elected members and community groups, who are concerned with planning.

Both bodies have supported and promoted the development of effective planning practice and a style of democratic planning that puts the needs of communities at its heart.

We are joining together to urge the coalition government to work with us in devising alternative approaches to locally based strategic planning before it dismantles the existing system.

We strongly believe that a focussed period of constructive thinking about the future of strategic planning would have immediate and longer term benefits in supporting the new Government in achieving its stated commitments in terms of devolution and localism, economic recovery, and sustainable development and environmental protection and improvement.

Planning at this level has a track record of securing the economic growth necessary to climb out of recession and create a sustainable economic future.  Dynamic and positive strategic planning is one of the keys to economic recovery and deficit reduction – not a barrier to them.

It co-ordinates housing and economic growth, investment and infrastructure and environmental conservation across the broad areas necessary to meet both local and wider needs- it is hard to see, for example, how the Coalition Agreement's commitment to maintaining the green belt could be achieved without strategic planning. 

Above all, strategic planning enables local aspirations to be met.  It is about far more than housing targets – it is about the futures of local communities.  Without effective strategic planning, the delivery of the Government's localism agenda will be compromised.  There needs to be a strategic context for local decisions to be taken otherwise necessary balances between economic development, environmental constraints, infrastructure development and equitable communities will not be achieved.

Meaningful community engagement will suffer without a strategic framework for communities to engage with and translate their desires and decisions into a wider context.

In making this statement we are not resisting improvements to the planning system – indeed both bodies have publicly argued that continuing improvement would be beneficial just as we have stated our belief in rational devolution.

However, we need to make sure that if change is necessary then it is managed properly.  It would be fair and proper for the government to consider the options for the future of the regional planning bodies in the same way as they are approaching consideration of the futures of quangos.

To do otherwise will mean that the expertise, relationships, skills, commitment and positive examples of joint approaches built up at the regional level over a period of many years will be lost.  Previous experience suggests that such precipitate action would be wasteful and not, ultimately, cost-effective, and that some resources would be lost forever, to the detriment of the system as a whole.

The current system of regional planning is based on leadership and direction provided by representatives of local government – not, as is wrongly assumed on unelected quangos.  The system is in very many ways an existing exemplar of the joint local authority bodies promoted in the Coalition Agreement and in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill and we urge the Government to work with us develop its thinking on best way of using this resource.

For all these reasons, the RTPI and the POS jointly call upon the Government to:

  • Allow a brief, but realistic, period of time for discussion prior to implementing its current plans to abolish the local government based structures for regional planning;
  • Work with us – and with the many other bodies representing the development, investment, economic development and environmental sectors – to devise a way ahead that will retain the strategic planning necessary to help to support and achieve the Government's programme, help drive economic growth and make best use of the expertise and commitment that already exists;
  • Maintain the funding of the current regional planning teams whilst these discussions are taking place.

For our part, we commit ourselves to:

  • Make this an immediate priority and to work swiftly, positively and effectively with the Department for Communities and Local Government and other relevant Departments on this issue;
  • Present a co-ordinated view from the two bodies to Government;
  • To liaise with the range of other relevant bodies from all sectors to seek as much consensus as possible on the way ahead on this vital issue.

Ann Skippers 
Royal Town Planning Institute

David Hackforth 
Planning Officers Society