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UCL recommends five ‘radical ideas’ for planning change

Words: Laura Edgar

Planning should not be just about growth, but also for wellbeing, while the system itself must be more democratic, say researchers from University College London (UCL).

Researchers from UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning have set out five ideas for a better planning system in their manifesto - ideas they believe are urgently needed.

Professor Yvonne Rydin told The Planner: “The planning system has been weakened over the years and it just does not have the tools to deliver towns and cities.”

The manifesto sets out why the researchers feel change is needed, stating that regional and local planning are not connected in the current system.

“The regional tier has been stripped away [and] a new scale of planning introduced at the smallest ‘neighbourhood’ level”.

“Specialised central guidance” is condensed into the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which “fails to provide a strong, coherent and relevant planning agenda”. The manifesto adds that social inequality is largely ignored in the NPPF, environmental sustainability “is given scant attention” and it lacks strategic direction.

“There is insufficient detail to guide local government plan-making and development decisions and its ambiguity offers the prospect of planning by appeal, with consequent uncertainty, delays and costs to the public purse.”

Additionally, the manifesto states that the planning system doesn’t provide adequate strategic planning at a sub-national scale, a democratic deficit remains within planning and there is a lack of tools to deliver on public policy goals.

The authors of the manifesto have therefore made five recommendations for the next government.

1. Planning should be for wellbeing and not just growth

• Planning needs to rediscover its purpose of “delivering fairness and promoting collective wellbeing”.

• Delink from GDP and it shouldn’t rely on a “discredited ‘trickle-down’ theory”.

• Garden cities wouldn’t be determined by only economic factors or land availability, but by things including the potential for sustainable living. They would provide for all parts of the community.

2. Planning powers must be radically devolved

• “Genuine decentralisation of planning powers” is required.

• A national framework should be set up through a spatial plan aimed at addressing key issues - rebalancing the economy, housing supply, national infrastructure and climate change.

• The democratic right of cities and regions to shape their future should be recognised.

• New green belt land could be allocated if existing green belt is considered suitable for development.

3. Planning should recognise the benefits of regulation

• Planning regulation “ensures that developers meets certain agreed standards and empowers planners to negotiate improvements to schemes for public benefit”.

• The ability of planners to influence development nature would been seen as positive, rather than a “barrier to growth”.

4. Land reform is essential, including local land ownership and land value capture

• Collective ownership of development rights needs reiterating.

• Consistent and effective ways of capturing and sharing land value uplift.

• Would mean greater control over land ownership at the local level.

5. The planning system must be democratic

• Planning department budget, community rants and planners’ education should reflect that engaging communities requires skills, time commitment and resources.

• Planning system should convince communities it has the ability to deliver urban change for their benefit.


In response to a query from The Planner about how to make the planning system more democratic, Rydin explained: “I think it has to be recognised that it takes time, effort and all kinds of communities to get engaged.

“It needs the resources, the skills and the creativity of planners to make it happen.”

Citing experience with neighbourhood planning to draw on to make the planning system more democratic, she added: “Sometime it is easier to deliver on a local scale – but it is not beyond our wit to do it.

“We have to be a little bit more creative.”