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The Raynsford Review of Planning: Going back to our roots


The Raynsford Review of Planning has published its interim report. Chris Shepley discusses where it came from and what it hopes to achieve.

Back in 2010 the Conservatives’ manifesto for planning (Open Source Planning) argued that we had “a broken system”.

Well, it is now.

I suspect that what the authors meant was that the system was broken not in the sense that it was not working properly (I think it was working pretty well) but in the sense that it was not producing the results they wanted.

In order to try to achieve those results – essentially a deregulated free market-led approach and a private housebuilding bonanza – they have messed around with the system to the point where it now seems immeasurably more complex. Eight years of this and we’re still a distance away from producing the number – let alone the type or quality – of homes needed. Public affection for the planning system has been eroded, with a feeling that community voices are not being heard. Important policies – for example, on affordability, climate change or social inclusion – have been downgraded or lost. And despite another paper of the time called Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities, the system has become more centralised.

It is in this context that the Raynsford Review of Planning was set up last year; I have the honour of being on the panel. An interim report will be published later this month, and I guarantee that it will be shorter and more entertaining than the NPPF revisions.  

"I can guarantee that it will be shorter and more entertaining than the NPPF revisions"

There have been a number of reviews of the planning system over the years, but this one differs in several respects. It is produced at a time when planning is probably at its lowest ebb since 1947.  

But Raynsford looks at planning as a whole. Previous reports, with the possible exception of the Nuffield Report in 1986, have looked from a particular perspective (e.g. Kate Barker on housing). It goes back to first principles – asking whether we need such a system at all (you’ll have to guess). If so, it asks what its purpose might be. It considers what sort of planning we need some distance into the 21st century.

How far should development be left to the market? How far should decisions be kept within democratic control? How do we regain public trust? How do we fill the big gaps that have emerged, for example, at the strategic level?

All these questions were raised during a successful consultation exercise involving nearly 1,000 people. Their thoughts and submissions, together with whatever skills and experience the panel members might have, have led us to examine a range of issues including, just for example (I mustn’t give away the whole caboodle) resources and the morale of planners, how to align the various players in the planning game more effectively, how to simplify legislation, and what to do about land values.

"How far should decisions be kept within democratic control? How do we regain public trust? How do we fill the big gaps that have emerged, for example, at the strategic level?"

We consider the problems of organising planning efficiently and effectively in a resource-starved local government system, and in one that bears little relationship to our functional geography.

Insofar as this is a work of genius (and I would so argue), it is down to the chairmanship and commitment of former planning minister Nick Raynsford, who understands and believes in planning to an extent few ministers have managed over the years. And to the skills of TCPA staff who have organised the exercise and drafted the report. It would be an extremely good thing if you – yes, you – could repay their efforts by reading this (not very long) report and commenting on it (look therein for details). And also maybe look out for the regional events that will be held to debate these issues.

It does not yet have firm conclusions or recommendations – those will come in the autumn.

It’s quite hard, so we’d welcome your help.  

Chris Shepley is the principal of Chris Shepley Planning and former Chief Planning Inspector

Illustration | Oivind Hovland


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