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Planning needs fundamental reform – and you can help

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Constant change has undermined the planning system and pushed it further from its core principles, argues Nick Raynsford. It's time for fundamental reform

Planning has been good for Britain over the past century. It has delivered decent housing for millions and contributed towards improving people’s quality of life. It has protected our countryside and valued landscapes from the piecemeal development and urban sprawl that characterises too many parts of the USA and Europe. Planning has made possible the development of successful new settlements, as well as supporting an urban renaissance in countless older cities and towns.

Today planning in England is in a tough place. The service is underfunded, its staff demoralised, its purpose questioned by powerful lobbies, and its processes criticised as slow, bureaucratic and out of touch with people’s lives.

Changes to planning law have removed the scope for national or regional responses to problems such as meeting housing need. In many parts of the UK there is no effective mechanism to ensure coordination between different areas. More development is being approved in a piecemeal way, by extending permitted development rights, or through appeals, leading to schemes that are poorly served by roads, hospitals or schools. 

"Constant tinkering has created confusion rather than clarity"

Homelessness and the lack of affordable homes are blighting more people’s lives. The public is finding it more difficult to engage meaningfully in the planning process. While neighbourhood planning initiatives have helped some communities to articulate their aspirations, in too many cases the public has felt powerless in the face of complex legislation, impenetrable viability tests, and increasing use of appeals to overturn decisions.

Planning has been subject to continuous change for over a decade. Constant tinkering has created confusion rather than clarity, and the failure of the outcomes to deliver the promised improvements has fuelled public cynicism. Too often the impact of recent changes has been to open the door to poorly designed, badly served schemes that don’t meet local needs. 

We need a system that is fairer, better resourced, and which also responds to economic, social and environmental challenges.

The review the TCPA has asked me to chair is designed to point the way to such an alternative. We will go back to first principles to formulate a vision of how the planning system can best meet the country’s needs. We will meet planners, developers, housing associations, charities, lawyers, architects, academics and the public. We want to build consensus about solutions and produce a blueprint for a system that is robust and can command public respect. Your experience is crucial. Please visit the Raynsford Review website to register for an event or submit evidence.

Nick Raynsford is president of the TCPA and chair of the Raynsford Review of Planning


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