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Government is bound to planning reform, says Pincher

Words: Laura Edgar
Christopher Pincher / Richard Gleed

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has said today (15 November) the government is ‘committed’ to reforming the planning system and that digitising the system is ‘crucial’ to its success.

Pincher was opening the Planning Portal’s annual conference, held virtually for a second time.

“We want to make sure that it’s more speedy. It’s more transparent. It’s more engaging for all the people that use it. Communities, planning professionals, developers, big and small, all of the stakeholders need to use a simple and sensible and speedy system,” he told the audience.

He outlined the level of engagement that the government has undertaken, including with environmental groups, heritage groups, community groups and young people. The government has also been speaking to the prop tech sector because “we know that digitising the planning system is crucial to its success”.

Doing so, he continued, would make it “more engaging, more three dimensional, more navigable for the people that use it”, such as local people and local planning authorities.

Progress local plans, chief planner urges

England’s chief planner highlighted the planning sector’s role in mitigating and addressing the climate crisis. She referenced a conversation with colleagues in New York and Austin in Texas and they each are doing to deal with flooding and significant heat.

Setting out the importance of street trees, she said planners in Texas are developing ‘sidewalk masterplans’ to create environments that make heat events much more bearable. It is important, she said, to think about their role and function, for nature and carbon capture, as well as those wider issues.

“We will really have to step forward as planners and as policymakers and as politicians at the local level to see how we use planning as a really effective tool to create good things and make sure the worst excesses of climate change don't impact on lives too much.”

Averley also spoke about a select committee meeting in which housing secretary Michael Gove explained what levelling up is, and what it means.

“He said there are four things that are critical to levelling up: helping to strengthen and improve local leadership; improving living standards, particularly where they are lower; improving the quality of public services, particularly where they're lagging; and helping to restore and enhance pride in place.

“So this is an agenda that is not purely about economic performance, but obviously as we all know, how the economic links to life chances, links to sense of pride, links to the quality of our built and natural environment and also links to public services and local leadership.”

She also noted that Gove wants to make sure that an approach to housing is developed that deals with a set of interconnected issues. For Gove, this means improving supply, improving quality, dealing with the difficulties that individuals have, and making sure that people have a decent home and a chance to get on the housing ladder.

As both she and Pincher have done on numerous occasions in the past year, Averley concluded by urging local authorities to progress their local plans.

“Quite often, I’m with local authorities and they say, ‘we’ve just heard this on the grapevine. We’ve heard that on the grapevine. What should we do? Should we be waiting for reform to sort of come to fruition? Should we be holding back in terms of plan making?’ I would just really strongly encourage any local authority to progress your local plan. As we know many local plans are out of date and there still are some local authorities who don’t have a local plan in place. It is always much better to have a plan. Please progress your local plans, they are the most important way that you as policymakers and as professionals can shape the built and natural environment and therefore the opportunities for your citizens.”

Image credit | Richard Gleed