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England's planning system requires more than process improvements, says RTPI

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has released its consultation response on local plan-making, stating that England's planning system needs more than just better processes to deliver the economic, social and environmental benefits that Local Plans can secure for communities.

The Institute welcomed proposals to simplify the plan-making process, introduce new gateway assessments, and include a new emphasis on local areas' "visions," but called for other aspects of local and national planning to be considered:

  • Resourcing of Local Authorities: Proposals would inevitably increase the pressure on under-staffed and under-resourced planning policy teams to deliver at pace.
  • Unaligned committee timetables: Proposals would place significant pressure on Council meeting timetables.
  • Local ambition and political support: Proposals improve guidance and policy but alone won’t compel local leaders to encourage and participate productively in the plan-making process.
  • Timeframe: Proposals would in effect introduce a 34-month, not 30-month, deadline to deliver Local Plans.
  • Changes to national planning policy: Policy uncertainty can disrupt local plan-making activity, extending the time between plan submission and adoption and reducing the number of plans adopted immediately following changes.
  • Strategic planning: where Local Plans alone are not required to determine the overall level of development needed in their area - and receive this from sub-regional or other planning processes - their progress towards adoption is faster and smoother.
  • Investment in major infrastructure: where central government support for new major transport projects have been uncertain or is withdrawn, this can have a significantly undermine the intended outcomes and viability of projects included in Local Plans.

Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: “It is essential that we start to see clarity and certainty about the Government’s planning and infrastructure reforms. This will help in creating an appropriate national and strategic context for plan-making. It will also reduce the burden on local planning authorities while adapting to changes in national planning policy, navigating contentious debates over housing numbers, land use, and aligning plans with uncertain transport and other infrastructure investments.

“For local councils to effectively implement the plan-making system and clear the Local Plans backlog that has been allowed to build up during more than a decade of cuts to planning services, they need three essential components – local ambition, political support, and sufficient resources to carry out the necessary preparatory work.”

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