“What is planning, and why should we care about it?” A vision for the future of planning in England

5th December, 2018

Amid the national debate about the Brexit deal, you could have been forgiven for having missed the recent publication of the ‘Raynsford Review of Planning in England’. Produced by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), it “takes a long hard look at the fundamentals” of the planning system.  
 
It identifies a widespread “disenchantment” with the existing system and is strongly critical of the short-term and ineffective tinkering in recent times. It suggests some radical reforms.
 
The Review is comprehensive and detailed, a long term ‘reimagining’ of what the planning system should be, supported by ten guiding principles and a set of twenty-four detailed recommendations.
 
The Review’s recommendations include:
 

  • Creating a “smart” planning structure;
  • Land value capture;
  • LPAs as ‘master-developers’;
  • Training and education of planners;
  • The duty of planning professionals to deliver public benefit;
  • A new community right to challenge major decisions;
  • Accountability and utilising technological advances to improve understanding; and engagement with planning.

 
Pro Vision agree with much of the Review’s analysis, and many of its recommendations, but some are likely to be contentious. We have particular concerns about:
 

  • Weakening the influence of material considerations by elevating these to a status of ‘exceptional’ circumstances before departure from development plan policy may be justified – this would likely reduce flexibility in decision-taking on planning applications.     
  • Creating a six tier planning framework (comprising a National Sustainable Development Plan; the NPPF; a Building Code; Strategic Regional Plans; Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans). It may be unsurprising that the TCPA’s solution to delivering “simplified” planning structures is to create more rather than less plans but it appears a recipe for conflict, chaos and delay – not so smart.
  • Amending Compulsory Purchase Orders by disqualifying “hope value”. In our view, direct intervention in the land market in this way is likely to be ineffective and have unintended consequences (such as reducing rather than increasing the amount of land coming forward). We think that existing mechanisms such as Section 106 Obligations and CIL are more effective at delivering community benefit, subject to proper viability testing of Local Plan policies and development proposals.
  • Community right to challenge. Whilst the proposals for third party right of appeal are said to be limited, we remain concerned about the potential for delay and reducing rather than increasing, land supply.

 
Of course, the impact of this Review will depend on how the Government (and others) respond. Planning reform is no longer so high on the political agenda – given Brexit and the recent significant improvement in housing delivery. It is also perhaps a missed opportunity that the review could not have been published earlier so that it could have informed the Government’s recent revision of the NPPF. Nevertheless, in the longer term this may well prove to be one of the most influential reviews of the English planning system.
 
The report makes very interesting reading and is available at: https://www.tcpa.org.uk/raynsford-review.