The headlines are powerful and the language was stirring, if simplistic. The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday promising a shake-up of the planning system was clear.
But as with everything around planning, housing and placemaking, the detail is crucial – what exactly is going to change for this to happen and how will it be implemented? How will the competing interests and priorities that characterise our system be navigated and will the right people get enough of the £5 billion ‘New Deal’ boost to make a difference? We’re awaiting July’s announcement and the further guidance it will bring with interest.
Is it enough, though, to talk about retail to residential conversions or building upwards at a faster pace?
The planning process is central to delivering the economic stimulus the country needs. Housing schemes especially have the potential to bring both social and economic benefits, for the people that bring them forward and those who will inhabit them. The last 15 weeks have shown us more than ever how important it is for everyone to have a suitable home with access to open space in connected neighbourhoods and communities.
Changes to the planning system that speed it up, make it more flexible and help deliver certainty are needed and will be well received by most. But to properly move the dial and make a real difference to delivering major change the government needs to tackle three areas in particular and make them work at a practical level:
- make sure there is sufficient resource across the system at all levels and in all relevant bodies;
- make sure statutory consultees central to the decision-making process such as Natural England, Highways England, The Environment Agency are properly accountable; and
- remove inconsistencies in decision making particularly with large scale and cross boundary developments where there is potential to make most difference to housing numbers.
Finally, though, for some important areas – such as town centre regeneration – these planning changes will still not be enough. Proposals that may be commercially unviable or marginal but serve an important social purpose will need to be supported by practical and financial assistance to encourage development where it is needed most.