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MHCLG’s chief planner urges local authorities to get a plan in place

Words: Laura Edgar
Joanna Averley / Laura Edgar and iStock-1095608518

England’s chief planner Joanna Averley has urged local authorities not to let the planning white paper prevent them getting their local plans in place.

Speaking at the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) autumn conference about the government’s proposals for planning reform, set out in Planning for the Future, she warned that the white paper is a “really important” document that isn’t about issuing new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG), while the process won’t finished in the next couple of months.

“We’ll be going into the next stage of policy development now, and developing the policy through the coming months," she explained.

She and the government are conscious that a transition to any change in the planning system is significant – “it’s politically significant, it’s significant on the resources of local government, and it’s significant in terms of how communities engage with the process”. As a result, there is “a bit of uncertainty going forward” for people.

But to anyone wavering and thinking about what this means for their local plan process, “please don't let that impact on your progress in your current plans. It’s really important that we have up-to-date plans in place”.   

Averley said feedback on the proposals so far suggests that respondents to the consultation are “up for” digitisation, “but obviously people want to ensure that the resources are in place and the know-how is in place to enable that to happen”.

“We're very conscious,” she continued, “that the quality of the data is the thing to get right.”

Regarding local plans, “as you know we’re looking to create a system that will have simpler plans – ones that are less paper-heavy, [have] less duplication of national-level policies, but actually look at land in ways that talk about growth, renewal, protection and give us a simpler consenting process that goes with different area-based allocations”.


On the current situation, she highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated trends that were already happening, for example, the decline of high streets, and created new dynamics, “the outcomes of which we can’t be certain about yet”.

These include the role of and how we use our homes and the spaces that people live in, right down to gardens and outdoor areas.

“I think that’s a very strong agenda for all of us moving forward in our personal lives – the questions about our professional lives and how we see the role and purpose of the home, particularly that and its relationship to our places of work. I think there is a general expectation that our work patterns have changed. And I won’t say forever, but our work patterns and commuting patterns have changed and therefore the occupancy of commercial floor space may have changed in our towns and city centres.”

She said that it could not yet be known what this will actually mean in the future, what people’s habits and professional and commercial drivers are going to be.  

This leaves built environment professionals with questions about occupancy levels within town and city centres and what that means for commercial buildings.

Additionally, the power of local, and the relationship, both economically and socially, to local has also slightly changed, Averley noted.

Overall, economically it is expected the country will bounce back in 2022/2023, but next year will be “a bit bumpy”, “so for all of us, it’s about understanding trends and understanding how they start to impact on our built and natural environment”.

Image credit | Laura Edgar and iStock