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01/10/2013

The Taylor Review: What I learnt about the state of planning guidance in England

Words:

At the height of discussions on the draft the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2011, the RTPI convened a series of meetings to discuss planning guidance, writes Trudi Elliott.

At that point the question being debated in some quarters was ‘Do we need any planning guidance at all?’ The consensus was a resounding ‘yes’. There was a ‘but’, however – about the state and extent of that guidance, and even about exactly what was or was not ‘government planning guidance’. At every opportunity, we raised the need to address planning guidance with the government.
 
Fast-forward to September 2012 and Lord Taylor invited me to join a small team to review planning guidance for England and make recommendations to the minister Nick Boles on what should happen with it.
 
I’m not sure that any of those who agreed to join in this task had any more idea than me of the scale of the endeavour we were taking on. Twenty or so years in the field and there was so much material I had never seen or, indeed, heard of.
 

"Do we need any planning guidance at all?"

 
It quickly became clear that the canon of guidance was out of date, hard to navigate, very extensive and not fit for purpose. One subject could include as much as 26 pieces of guidance. Much of the material read like special pleading or as if it was written by special interest groups rather than government. Much was also of its time, with out-of-date case studies and references to defunct bodies or funding streams.
 
However, when we looked beyond the preambles, special pleading and case studies, we often found gems of useful guidance. It did not shake my view that government planning guidance is necessary. Hence our recommendations for a fresh approach. We said that in future, planning practice guidance should be clear, accessible, up-to-date, and easily available on a web resource actively managed by DCLG.
 
The government accepted almost all of our 18 recommendations and commissioned a guidance website with freshly written planning practice guidance. We were invited to ensure the draft guidance met the tests of clarity, accessibility and up-to-dateness. 
 
The draft National Planning Practice Guidance beta website reflects what we recommended – guidance hosted on a single site under 38 subject headings, readily printable and date stamped, with links to the NPPF and other source material. I hope this means the guidance is kept in better order in future and is more responsive and transparent.
 
Trudi Elliott is chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute. This is an abridged version of an article first published on the RTPI website
 

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