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Public trust is ‘vital’ to reforming planning

Words: Laura Edgar
Community / Shutterstock: 144653342

Building up public trust is 'vital' if reforming the planning system is going to be a success, according to the Town and Country Planning Association's (TCPA) alternative reforms.

Nothing, the charity says, should be built without public consent.

A reformed planning system should be “democratically accountable and genuinely participative”, so communities, which includes those currently excluded from the process, have “meaningful power over their own future”. 

People should have a right to be heard in person when plans are examined; control over permitted development should be the responsibility of local government; councillors should receive mandatory planning training; and resources are required to directly support community empowerment. 

Building public trust is one of six key priorities for change set out in a document entitled Common Ground. It was published ahead of the deadline for the government’s consultation for its planning reforms, set out in Planning for the Future.

Published in August, the government’s white paper proposals have elicited a number of concerns regarding their impact on local democracy and the quality of outcomes, the TCPA notes. Common Ground reflects these concerns and seeks to build a wider consensus on necessary changes to the existing English planning system.

The TCPA believes that they would “be much less disruptive” than those proposed by the government, and would ensure that the English planning system is “fit to tackle the health, housing and the climate crises”.

The other priorities are:

  • There needs to be statutory purpose for planning that is clear, ambitious and sets out a shared objective for the planning system for a sustainable future. It should go beyond the Scottish Government’s legal duty on planning in the public interest to set up a transparent goal for all parts of the system.
  • A more ambitious set of minimum housing requirements is required to deliver homes and communities that support people’s health and wellbeing. 
  • The need for strategic cooperation. The TCPA endorses the UK 2070 Commission’s case for a national strategic plan and they support the reintroduction of strategic regional plans, which should have a formal status in planning decisions and be produced with clear democratic accountability. 
  • A focus on practical delivery. This includes giving urgent priority to developing a compelling offer of support for local growth, including a modernised and effective development corporation option for areas undergoing rapid change. Strategic plans are needed to determine the right locations for growth, but central government must also set out the right investment streams and take direct responsibility for the coordination of policy and funding across government departments.
  • Sharing development values. The TCPA supports the recommendations of the Raynsford Review for a more modest immediate reform. This includes measures specific to large-scale growth implemented by development corporations and local planning authorities and measures to strengthen the development plan in order to secure strong public interest outcomes which will be reflected, in time, in lower land prices, allowing a new policy of ‘right-pricing land’ to take effect.

Fiona Howie, chief executive at the TCPA, said: ‘The planning system in England needs to change to make it more responsive to people's needs. Common Ground sets out a practical and measured basis for planning reform, which would be a starting point for achieving the shared ambition for good design, but within the grain of the existing planning system.

“Above all Common Ground is about rebuilding trust in the system. Local development can only happen through a democratic process of building consensus for change. The same applies to changes to national planning.

Common Ground focuses the role of planning on securing people’s health and wellbeing and is our contribution to a shared conversation about the reforms we need. We hope such a conversation will lead to the kind of lasting settlement on planning reform that would bring to an end a decades-long process of continuous change.”

Common Ground can be found on the TCPA website. 

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