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Planning for the future

Post by

Jim Connolly 

Strategic Development Director

Planning for the future

We recently co-hosted a round table with Built Environment to discuss our current planning system. We were joined by a number of top industry professionals who interact with planning in many different capacities. It gave us an in-depth and varied understanding of how the system is currently shaping up and where we can make improvements for the future.

The general view was an optimistic one. Although the system has its flaws, it’s not in need of a complete overhaul. A brand new system would only lead to more unwanted delays on top of the ones we’re already managing. But it does need to evolve, and our colleagues identified several issues that need urgent attention.

Invest in skills and resources

The fallout from Covid will inevitably mean a squeeze on public finances and only time will tell where the planning system sits in the Government’s long list of priorities. But it already needs more resources.

Only then will local authorities have access to the time and skills they need to bring the current system up to standard. It would make the process of reviewing and adopting plans much easier and remove a lot of the uncertainty we’re currently living under.

And these processes need highly trained people to make sure they’re running correctly. Ever since the planning schools closed in the 90s, our local authorities have been starved of emerging talent. With the older generation now departing, local authorities need to step up their efforts to attract the right people and bridge the growing skills gap.

Make digital permanent

The pandemic has brought the planning system into the digital age. Processes have long been outdated and it’s encouraging to see technology transform the way the system operates.

Virtual meetings, virtual committees, and electronic copies are quickly becoming the norm, making the system much more efficient. Local authorities need to make all of these technological advancements permanent and be given the resource and freedom to further explore changes that will have a similar impact.

Engage with the community

Virtual committees have meant more people are engaging with the planning process and this is something that local authorities need to continue to facilitate. Engaging with communities means the industry is much more informed by public opinion, and creates developments that people truly want to work and live in.

Open forums like virtual committees can also encourage our next generation of talent to engage with the planning process, explore opportunities in the sector, and hopefully help shape the built environment of tomorrow.

Crack the green belt nut

The ambition from local and national government to build more houses is clear for all to see. But the age-old problem still remains – there’s a lack of ambition to release green belt land and give the industry space enough to deliver the broad range of houses the country craves.

Again, the last thing we need is for law and policy to go through a radical rewrite and exacerbate the delays we’re already having to deal with. But the financial restrictions on developers, such as Section 106 and CIL, that hinder developments ever coming to fruition have to be reviewed. Otherwise, the ambitious housing targets our Government aim for are unlikely to ever be realised.

So our planning system isn’t broken and there are several reasons to feel encouraged. However, the system desperately needs an influx of resource and investment to really see it thrive.

The work our local authorities have done to bring the system into the digital age has transformed the way it operates and interacts with the public. But there’s still room to achieve so much more. The next step is to open up the virtual doors to our talented next generation and give them the support they need to unlock our system’s full potential.

Our thanks go to:
Nicholle Kingsley, Pinsent Masons
Mary-Jane O’Neill, Lambert Smith Hampton
Kathryn Jump, Shoosmiths
Jon Alsop, Savills
Nigel Cussen, Pegasus Group

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