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The concept of ‘planning aid’ grew out of a growing concern in the planning profession from the late 1960s that communities and individuals were not being involved in decision making in their local areas.  During this period there was also a burgeoning interest amongst the general public and community organisations about public participation in decision making.  

The emergence of the term 'planning aid' first came about at a discussion at the offices of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) - as referred to in the Dictionary of Urbanism - and in the words of Jim Amos, RTPI president 1971-72 (from his presidential address, reproduced in the Journal of the Royal Town Planning Institute, November 1971): "It would do much to make the planning process more democratic and more sensitive to its effects if a free planning advice service could be made available to those in need."

In 1973, the first Planning Aid service was started by the Town and Country Planning Association, with David Lock as the first Planning Aid officer.   

By the mid 1970s, volunteer-run planning aid services, organised by the TCPA and RTPI branches, progressively developed across the country – the West Midlands and Yorkshire were some of the first services initiated by a growing body of volunteers.  In the late 1970s, the RTPI in South Wales established a planning aid service for South Wales, run by a small group of volunteers.  Similarly, the late 1970s in Scotland saw volunteer led planning aid operating from Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee, coordinated by the Scottish branch of the RTPI. 

In the 50 years since the first inception of 'Planning Aid', a nationwide network of Planning Aid services has evolved. Planning Aid England is part of the RTPI and works in all English regions; separate charities exist to deliver services in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. These organisations offer free, independent and professional advice on planning issues, and empower local communities to engage with the planning process and influence decisions that affect their local area. This is built on the principle that everyone should have access to the planning system regardless of their ability to pay.

The sections below detail some key points from the history of Planning Aid over the decades.  If you have been involved in Planning Aid services and would like to add a key moment, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

Image credit: TCPA