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4.0 Status

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Corporate management teams provide leadership, vision and priority setting for places by shaping the strategic operational direction and investment decisions of local authorities. We asked participants whether the corporate status of planning had, in their experience, diminished over recent decades. Whilst most participants noted regional variation, it was agreed that the corporate presence of planning within local authorities has weakened in recent decades. This represents a missed opportunity to harness the expertise of planning. As one Chief Executive explained:

"The training that a planner has is fundamentally about making connections, networking, seeing the big picture, so they are great skills to add into corporate discussions." (Chief Executive, Local Authority in England)

There was widespread concern expressed over findings from the first phase of this research that 9% of local authorities do not have a recognisable Chief Planning Officer. Interviewees considered this role to be crucial to aligning development management and development planning teams. Particular concerns were expressed in regions where forms of strategic planning are less formalised, placing particular emphasis on collaboration between the leadership of planning departments.

Reduced local authority budgets and the related series of corporate restructures are seen as the predominant cause of the observed reduction in the corporate status of planning. In local government, many local authorities have had to make significant cuts to their planning departments[4]. For example in England between 2010-11 and 2017-18, core funding for planning functions in local authorities fell by 37.9%[5]. In Scotland, Scottish Local Government Financial Statistics 2009/10 and 2016/17 show planning authorities' budgets decreasing in real terms by 40.8% since 2009[6].

One participant suggested that during the current tight fiscal environment, planning could improve its status through better demonstrating how it delivers on multiple council objectives:

"I think because of the scale of austerity and the like, [planning could be bolder by] actually being there and helping and being seen to help to get where the council wants it to be." (Chief Planner, England)

Participants indicated that planning departments may not be seen as major revenue generators unlike, for example, property functions in local authorities that produce capital receipts. However, with the appropriate corporate presence, planning can generate significant economic development for local authorities, for example by helping to deliver new housing.

As one retired Chief Planner suggested:

"When cutting budgets is taking place or the resources have been divided out, [we need] a voice there saying, don't forget the planning service because it is going to deliver you this, this, this.  Without that, planning then just becomes a side issue and it gets hit harder than it ought to in terms of any budget savings." (Retired Chief Planning Officer, England)

"It needs the planners to have the space to get about and make the other departments and the other professionals within the organisations think planning first as opposed to last or too far down the road." (Chief Planning Officer, Local Authority, Scotland)

At a corporate level, planning can also help deliver major cost savings for local authorities by understanding the spatial implications of decisions made in other departments, and through upstream preventative interventions associated with place-making.

Recommendation

1. The RTPI will lead the advocacy role[7] including 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.

Chief Planning Officer Amendment, Planning (Scotland) Bill

A proposed amendment has been introduced during Stage two scrutiny of the Planning (Scotland) bill[1] by the Local Government and Communities Committee. A new duty has been introduced for local authorities to appoint Chief Planning Officers in every planning authority in Scotland. It is expected that this amendment will survive Stage three parliamentary scrutiny. RTPI Scotland will work with Scottish Government to help shape the associated secondary legislation and guidance.

 

[4] National Audit Office (2019) Planning for new homes. Available from: https://bit.ly/2IgEfeC

RTPI (2017) Progressing Performance: Investing in Scotland's Planning Service. Available from: https://bit.ly/2UZgsBy

Wales Fiscal Analysis (2019) Cut to the bone? An analysis of Local Government finances in Wales,

2009-10 to 2017-18 and the outlook to 2023-24. Available from: https://bit.ly/2EbST2X

[5] National Audit Office (2019) Planning for new homes. Available from: https://bit.ly/2IgEfeC

[6] RTPI Scotland (2019) Resourcing the Planning System: Key Trends and Findings 2019

RTPI Scotland research briefing. Available from: https://bit.ly/2WxNNVr

[7] 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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