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23/08/2018

Developers and planning authorities must embrace shared experience to deliver

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New Housing iStock

Adam Ross discusses the benefits private sector expertise could bring to other local authorities throughout the UK, citing Public Practice as an example.

While most of all new housing is delivered by the private sector, it is of course local authorities that grant planning permission.

To successfully navigate the process, private sector developers and consultants have to understand and respond to the issues facing the public sector. It is equally important that local authorities understand the pressures faced by private sector developers.

As the housing crisis persists, it is vital that the public and private sectors work positively together.

So it is encouraging to see schemes such as Public Practice, which recently announced its first cohort of private sector professionals to boost local authority capacity and expertise in London and the South East, coming to the fore.

The benefits of having private sector experience in local authorities are numerous. For one, private sector planners often work simultaneously across multiple local authority areas, identifying good and bad practice across the country. Local authority staff, while developing a deep understanding of the area in which they work, can struggle to obtain this wider perspective.

Greater private sector planning experience in the public sector would ensure that a strong understanding of the private sector, including its overarching priorities and best practice, could be spread more widely.

The opposite is also undoubtedly true. Having worked for Portsmouth City Council, I know a large number of private sector planners started work in the public sector. Quite rightly, this public sector experience is generally seen as a benefit, giving staff an appreciation of the issues affecting local authorities and assisting in navigating the process.

But for various reasons it is far less common for private sector planners to move to local authorities. Consequently, local councils frequently have less of a chance to benefit from private sector understanding.

This can lead to unfounded scepticism about developers’ motives and an assumption that they are usually looking to deliver the bare minimum.

While there are always commercial considerations, from my experience developers simply want to secure planning permission in an amicable and timely way. However, a lack of trust and understanding does nothing to encourage these positive outcomes, making initiatives such as Public Practice so important.

Successful outcomes are vital nationally, and notably so in areas where development needs are greatest, such as London and the South East. Indeed, the demands for new housing, employment and other uses in the Thames Valley sub-region are highly significant. Delivering them, and so enabling the area to fully realise its opportunities, is essential. 

Adam Ross is executive director at Nexus Planning’s Thames Valley office

Image credit | iStock

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