Will the Raynsford Review make planning fit for purpose?
Frustrations with the UK planning system are widespread and the urgent need for an overhaul has been evident for a while, however finally, it seems that the planning sector may be on the brink of getting the boost it needs.
The Raynsford Review of Planning, recently launched its interim report, with the final document due later this year. The review was established to advise how the English planning system can be improved to better serve the professionals who work daily on its behalf, and the individuals and groups who interact with it on a daily basis.
What is expected to change?
Whilst it has been a number of years since anyone took a step back and evaluated the core purpose of planning in the UK, many of the themes of the report will be familiar to both planners and non-planners. These include, for instance, the need for sustainable development, a renewed focus in planning for public interest and the localism agenda.
However, the whole document is interwoven with a general sense of disenchantment which undoubtedly stems from its inherent complexity; the number of agencies, processes and policies involved is simply phenomenal. Even to the untrained eye, it is clear that the system needs to be simplified and streamlined.
As the Review rightly highlights, the many reforms throughout the years have only added to the complexity. Whilst these have largely been minor, they haven’t made the system any more effective. For example, the Government’s policy of granting permitted development rights for the conversion of certain buildings without needing planning permission was intended to speed up the delivery of new housing, yet the Review argues that this has only led to an increase in poor quality housing.
A chance to make a positive impact
The planning world’s current processes are cumbersome and bureaucratic – certainly not designed for the 21st century. Whilst the Review has made a start on what can only be described as a mammoth task, it must not lose sight of the changes that will impact people on a daily basis. The speed and quality of decision making around gaining planning consent is an issue largely influenced by time and resourcing pressures in planning departments. Additional time would allow applications and schemes to be examined in a more considered fashion.
Tackling the wider issues
The Review has failed to pick up on the shortage of planners and other related professionals – for example ecologists and engineers – in local government. This is having a huge impact on the sector and directly impacts the effectiveness of the current system. Further proposals should keep this in mind and put forward a system which is significantly less-labour intensive for all involved.
Crucially the Review has not been commissioned by the Government and has been positioned in such a way as to spur it into taking legislative action. However, for the proposals to come to life, all parties involved in the UK planning industry must unite; it must be led by the Government, with the planning profession working with local authorities to dictate how a new system would be supplied and interpreted.
There is no denying that the interim Review has shone a light on the industry and raised issues that we all knew were there, but perhaps weren’t being addressed. It’s a good start but it remains to be seen whether these proposals will be translated into meaningful actions.