The former housing and planning minister and TCPA president Nick Raynsford has slammed the planning system as failing outright in the recently published Interim Report of the Raynsford Review: Planning 2020.
“Planning has become a focus for bitter controversy. As a service which seeks to achieve the optimum outcome from often conflicting pressures, planning inevitably attracts differing points of view, and always has.
“But the ferocity of the divisions which characterise today’s debates on planning, together with the scale of public disenchantment with its processes and outcomes, are, in my experience, unprecedented,” says Raynsford in the report.
The review is the work of the Town and Country Planning Association, which conducted a wide range of research and engagement to produce the interim report as an appraisal of the kind of planning system the country will need by 2020.
Referring to the ‘powerful voices’ that challenge the current system of planning, Raynsford says: “In their view, planning is at best slow, cumbersome and bureaucratic, an obstacle to getting things done, or at worst ‘the enemy of enterprise’ which needs to be dismantled. At the same time, the planning service is chronically underfunded, and the staff are often demoralised by the constraints within which they are working.”
The Interim Report explains that people no longer trust the planning system to deliver what it should, and that constant tinkering has left it confusing and overly bureaucratic with conflicting policy objectives.
The Raynsford Review of Planning makes nine propositions for reforms to the planning system. Raynsford hopes that these principles will be a trigger for debate that will positively feed into the future of planning in England, through the final report, due later in 2018.
Its recommendations could provide the foundations for the new robust and effective planning system that we need.
The principles are:
1 Planning should be in the public interest. “There is both an evidential and a principled justification for the regulation of land and the built environment. This justification is founded on the inability of market mechanisms alone to deliver a full range of public interest outcomes, and on the principled assumption that decisions with a lasting impact on people and places should be subject to democratic accountability that goes beyond the exercise of individual property rights.”
2 Planning must have a purpose. It must improve the wellbeing of people by creating places of “of beauty, convenience and opportunity,” and it needs a statutory objective to support this.
3 The planning system must be people-centred – it needs to engage with “broader social, economic and environmental implications for people and places.” The system also needs enough regulatory powers to deal with problems. To deliver this we need a plan-led system that brings certainty to developers and communities.
4 It must have a covenant for community participation. Effectively, planning must have public legitimacy that reconnects people with the planning process, engaging with a range of community stakeholders.
5 It must meet people’s basic needs. Planning must offer rights to outcomes that people expect from planning, especially those that don’t have a voice, such as future generations.
6 Planning law must be simplified. A new Spatial Planning Act should be introduced setting logical and clearer laws. These should be set within four spatial scales: neighbourhood, local, regional, and national planning.
7 Alignment of English planning agencies. Housing and infrastructure need to be better linked as a shared ambition.
8 Land value must be more fairly shared out. Among other things, windfall gains to landowners distort the planning system through speculation. To improve this we need measures specific to large-scale growth conducted by Development Corporations/planning authorities; reform to Section 106 and Community Infrastructure processes; and improved capital gains tax through betterment taxation.
9 A new kind of planner. There needs to be room for a new type of visionary and creative planner, making them more proactive, using ideas to boost society rather than ironing them out.
Raynsford acknowledges that change needs consensus to be effective if our planning system is to be robust enough to face the future.
“A functional planning system must offer a strong narrative of strategic spatial policy, from national through sub-national and city-regional to local and neighbourhood levels.”