Green Belt, Housing and Local Plans, in the hands of Planning Officers.

In a letter to the Guardian Newspaper, a Planner gives his view as to problems in Local Plan making.

Locally in Castle Point it is often claimed that planners are responsible for the Plan making and the reason that unacceptable Local Plans are produced for publication. In this letter a Planner offers his (part) defence.

Council planners like me could solve the housing crisis – if ministers let us.

public servant: my letter to the public

Many council planners are concerned that over the past 10 years it has become more difficult for them to deliver good plans. The planner’s dream right now would be for the government to avoid reinventing the wheel all of the time and let us get on with it.

Apart from fans of the Jam’s track The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong, most people only encounter town planners when they want to build a house extension or object to a neighbour’s plans.

Another breed of town planner is an even rarer sight. I lead a team of policy planners in a local council. We write the “local plan” for the whole borough – essentially the rule book that helps decide whether a new development gets planning permission or not.

Policy planners like me are becoming an even rarer sight in local councils – and so are local plans. Planning departments have seen cuts of 46% since 2010 [pdf]. This means less planning power for your local council to shape for the better the places in which we all live and work. As the government’s housing white paper makes clear, since 2012 only a third of councils have adopted a local plan, and 34 councils have not published a local plan for consultation since 2004.

This matters, because local plans make a real difference. In London, for instance, a new planning policy to restrict basement developments, in response to residents’ concerns, has reduced significantly the number of planning applications for new basements. Local plans help councils be active in thinking where to encourage new development, rather than being forced into constantly reacting to developers’ proposals.

Originally, I was going to study geography but one of my teachers asked if I’d heard of town planning – and I’ve never looked back. I’ve been working in planning since before I even graduated. It’s an enjoyable and stretching job, and I’ve worked in many highly professional and dedicated teams.

The importance of planning in helping to solve the housing crisis has been acknowledged by the government, which we welcome, but constant changes to the planning system over recent years have been a distraction from us being able to get on with the job.

We know everyone wants a faster planning process but take, for instance, the introduction in 2015 of starter homes, the government’s new plan of low-cost home ownership. That has meant many councils, including the one I work for, have had to commission specialist viability research to assess the implications. That’s just one of many new requirements that take time and money and slow down plan-making rather than speed it up. The professional body for planners recently found that almost three quarters of planners think constant changes to planning have got in the way of their ability to create and deliver good local plans.

Rob Krzyszowski is a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)

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2 responses to “Green Belt, Housing and Local Plans, in the hands of Planning Officers.

  1. This makes good sense and is a sad indictment on government, that said even without interference the logic expressed here only works if ones local council employs the expertise to which it refers to allow sound local planning, did this apply to CPBC pre austerity cuts?

  2. Editor
    We have been observers of the planning process undertaken at CPBC for far too long, however the most frustrating aspect of the whole process has been the lack of consistency, closely followed by the lack of transparency.
    The situation that what appears acceptable in one part of the borough, may be unacceptable in the other, has always made the issues of planning policy at Castle Point complicated.
    The Guardian letter considers that to follow planning policy leads to acceptable planning outcomes, unfortunately we have seen under examination Castle Point council’s policies at times being challenged.
    Local planning policies as I understand are the product of local politics where the cabinet system behind closed doors plan our borough’s future, within or without its officers guidance.
    This leads to speculation that the maintenance of political power, or worst still personal interest, being the catalyst for some of the decision making outcomes.
    Observing from the side lines and at times encouraged to participate in the tick box process of community involvement has taken its toll, though our resolve remains to see fair play for Canvey Island and its residents, chiefly through the contents of this blog and participation in the local plan process!

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