Insight

Everyone involved in planning needs to take notice of the Raynsford Report

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We just don’t have time to engage with the people we are planning for” – public sector planner

The Raynsford Review of Planning was published on 20 November: an ambitious look at the English planning system, what it tries to achieve, how it is failing and how to fix it.

The issues it looks at include:

  • The legal and organisational complexity and high rate of change of the planning system
  • Permitted development rights, which it believes have gone too far and need to be pulled back.
  • The ineffectiveness of Section 106 and CIL to achieve “betterment”: grabbing some of the development values that comes from public sector investment back into local government.

One big unhappy family

BECG is most interested in the chasm the report identifies between developers, planners and residents.

A private sector developer said “The answer to the problems of planning is simple. Take it out of the hands of local politicians who often know nothing about the development needs of their areas.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old resident of a North West town said “I’m proud of my town but I don’t think anyone outside cares about it. I don’t think anyone outside cares much about any of us.

Issues raised include:

  • the complex language and procedures often used by planners
  • a lack of community engagement skills among planners
  • anger at decisions that seem to ignore community concerns about heritage and the environment
  • confusion over the role of elected members
  • concerns about the quality and design of homes
  • about the lack of supporting infrastructure, and
  • the difficulty in engaging with strategic plans.

As for strategic plans, the comment from one politician is telling: “People don’t have time to waste looking at plans that never seem to make any bloody difference.

A senior local government politician described the planning system as “At best bad tempered and ill-mannered, and at worst like a pub brawl.” We agree.

There is a need not only to balance the needs of community and developers, but also the wider strategic needs with the desires of local residents. We also need to avoid the community voice becoming just those with interests in blocking development, ignoring the people in greatest need and preventing them from having access to basic decent living conditions.

Recommendations

The report poses 24 questions, and two of them (numbers 4 and 5) seek to address these challenges.

The report calls for a new professional culture and skills set directed at engaging communities, with an emphasis on reaching out to groups who do not currently have a voice such as children and young people.  It argues for the greater resources needed to secure genuine community participation, and a change to planning service targets to encourage participation, not just get as many applications as possible over the line as quickly as possible.

The fifth question looks at the balance needed to stop increased participation turning into a force to bring the planning system to a halt.  Planning must not protect the interests of an entrenched community at the expense of voiceless minorities. It calls for a set of non-negotiable basic standards for any development on design, space, resilience and accessibility. The proposals look to zonal planning systems abroad and seeks to move our system more in that direction.

Local authorities should take on a “master developer” role: operating development companies, purchasing land, acquiring land through compulsory purchase and forming partnerships with the private sector to deliver the scale and quality of development needed.  More important financial information around planning should be in the public domain.

A community “right to challenge” should be created, but only on major applications that are departures from the local development plan. And people must be empowered to engage, which means giving them the skills and support they need – not just the powers.

At well over a hundred pages, this is a serious report that looks to simplify, enhance and strengthen the planning process. While we can’t predict the government’s response, there are elements which local authorities and combined authorities could take forward now, starting to improve the communications around planning to achieve better outcomes for all.

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