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1.0 Executive summary

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Status

This report builds on report 1 of RTPI research[1], which found that only 23% of the 212 local authorities we investigated in the UK and Ireland had a head of planning that reported directly to the Chief Executive. This second report researches why it matters that there are planners at the top table. We conducted 15 in-depth, semi structured interviews with a range of current and past local government senior management staff. These were selected from a representative spread of RTPI regions and nations. We have used case studies to highlight the positive impacts where planning has been placed at the heart of corporate decision making in local authorities.

Our participants identified that the corporate presence of planning within local authorities has weakened during recent decades. They recommended restoring the status of Chief Planning Officers within local authorities, emphasising the multiple benefits this would deliver. We found that Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) have been marginalised in an age of austerity. A recurring theme in our interviews was the need for LPAs to better articulate the value of place-making and the cross departmental agenda that the planning system can deliver if provided with a place at the top table.

Influence

Our interviews emphasised the multiple benefits of consulting planners from the outset of the decision making process around development. Having a Chief Planning Officer at the top table can provide a long-term vision, engagement with communities and certainty for development. Ideas, innovation and conversation were highlighted as key benefits that the best Planners and Chief Planning Officers offered to LPAs. Understanding local politicians motivations was seen as critical to increasing the influence of spatial planning. This means working in tandem with politicians, achieving their 'buy-in' and retaining a strategic long-term view whilst understanding the realpolitik dynamic of the short election timescales and the need for politicians to be seen as delivering. Planners were also seen as particularly well placed to work with and guide politicians in developing long-term strategic visions.

Skills

Participants highlighted how the career growth of talented individuals is at risk of being stifled by the reduced presence of planning within local authorities. This was demonstrated by fewer opportunities for planners to collaborate with other departments such as transport, education, housing and commercial real estate. On top of this, scaling back training budgets is often seen as a quick way to save money. These problems are amplified in LPAs without a clear Chief Planning Officer to represent the profession and make the case for investing in professional development.

Recommendations

  1. The RTPI will lead the advocacy role[2] involving all key stakeholders to formalise the networks of Chief Planning Officers across the UK and communicate the importance of planning in the corporate operations of local authorities.
  2. New legislation to require Chief Planning Officers as a statutory function within local authorities would protect the functioning of planning departments and the spatial integrity of corporate decision-making in local authorities. It is up to individual nations to arrive at arrangements to suit local circumstances.
  3. Local authorities need to engage planners at the outset of any major development or corporate strategy. Chief Planning Officers should be included in the formation of corporate development groups and corporate management groups.
  4. RTPI to work with stakeholders and partners to explore and support the provision of mid-career mentoring and management training development opportunities for planners.
  5. RTPI to encourage accredited planning schools to facilitate Chief Planners and Senior Leaders to provide visiting lectures on multi-disciplinary skills for planning and career development, and input into practical projects.
  6. RTPI to investigate an extended version of the current Chief Planners mentoring scheme for young planners which could be rolled-out offering additional opportunities for early or mid-career shadowing and development.

 

[1] RTPI (2018) Chief Planning Officers – the corporate and strategic influence of planning in local authorities. Available here: https://bit.ly/2S43nVJ

[2] The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Local Government Association (LGA), Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), Planning Advisory Service (PAS), Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), Heads of Planning Scotland (HOPS), Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Planning Officers Society Wales (POSW), Planning Officers Society (POS),  Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE)


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