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13/02/2015

Vote for planning changes

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Matthew James of Hampshire County Council presents his manifesto for positive planning

Matthew JamesIn the long weeks of electioneering before May’s general election, many promises are going to be bandied around by the political parties. Housing, the NHS and, of course, the evergreen topic of immigration all get a look in.

But I sense that planners are emerging from their embattled shells to become a little louder and prouder; swing voters who hold the key to a future coalition, perhaps?

So here is my election manifesto, calling for imagination to focus all our minds on positive planning. Some might argue more ‘stick’ than ‘carrot’. But then do orchestras work better with or without a conductor?

"It doesn't matter a jot to our planet if one district is slightly cleaner and greener than the next"

1. Add a new test 
in the National 
Planning Policy Framework: planning applications and policies should show how they achieve ‘demonstrable good’. Imagine what a positive onus this would place on applicants and local planning authorities in preparing and assessing planning applications, shifting the focus from weasel words such as ‘mitigation’ and ‘balance’.

2. Introduce a requirement for estate agents and developers to specify the amount of floor space in property marketing details. Imagine how empowering this would be for homebuyers; and how it might nudge house builders to design and market new properties.

3. Make it a legal duty for local planning authorities to have an up-to-date development plan in place, covering a 10-year period. Imagine a nation where all local members were forced to confront the development and conservation needs of their area in a timely manner, and resource planning teams were made to achieve this and positively engage their constituents in the process.

4. Bring environmental standards for new homes and offices under the remit of building regulations, rather than local planning policies. It doesn’t matter a jot to our planet if one district is slightly cleaner and greener than the next. Imagine the saving in paperwork that is now piled on planning officers’ desks.

5. Finally, adapt community polices to recognise the distinction between public sector services (which are, in the main, movable and adaptable) and commercial facilities such as pubs and local shops, which are often outbid by higher value uses when unprotected by policy – and then lost forever. Imagine how much more responsive planners could be in meeting the challenge of public sector service transformation – modernising nursing homes, office space and police work, for example – if given the flexibility to do so.

Can I count on your vote?

Matthew James is the planning and urban design team leader at Hampshire County Council Property Services. This article is written in a personal capacity.

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