Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, looks at the key planning system issues that need to be addressed in 2020
With Christmas and the New Year out the way and as the dust settles following December’s General Election, it is now time to turn our attention to issues that need urgently addressing in 2020. From a planning perspective, our top priority is to ensure that planners and the planning system are adequately resourced to deliver sustainable, well-designed, successful urban and rural place into the future.
A well-planned place is much more likely to be economically successful than one that is not. Planning drives the economy; it is not a burden as it provides market certainty. But over the last decade, local authority planning teams have seen a reduction of 42% in funding, a situation that now must be urgently addressed to help us meet the challenges ahead.
The climate emergency
The most urgent of those challenges, and one that is facing us all, is the climate emergency. Planning has a crucial role in helping to achieve global sustainable development and deliver the government’s net-zero carbon targets by 2050.
The decarbonisation of our economies will not be without its challenges, but planning and planners sit at the vanguard of the solution and the issue is central to the RTPI’s new corporate strategy, which we launched on 22 January.
A recent survey by the RTPI revealed that an overwhelming majority of UK planners want the government to give stronger direction and more resources to enable local planners to meet the targets. And even though 79% of respondents agreed that climate action should be a top priority for the profession, only 17% felt their nation’s planning system or policy framework was well-equipped enough to deal with the current climate crisis.
Throughout 2020, we will continue our Resource Planners for Climate Change campaign, calling on the government to give more resources and powers to local authorities to tackle the climate change emergency.
We also welcome the clear commitment by the government to place a high priority on the environment. The proposed Environment Bill represents a great opportunity to align spatial planning for homes and infrastructure with planning for the environment and a sustainable future.
We look forward to working very closely with the government to improve policy on biodiversity net gain and ensure that any new requirements on local planning authorities in England are fully funded.
Invest in infrastructure
The RTPI welcomes proposals in the Queen’s Speech to do more devolution deals, level up powers, implement an effective funding model for Mayoral Combined Authorities and invest further in infrastructure, with the rollout of spatial development strategy powers to more city-regions being key to realising potential, but the devil really is in the detail.
There is an urgent need to upgrade much of the country’s existing infrastructure so we can reach net-zero carbon, respond to growing environment risks such as flooding and overheating, accommodate population growth and demographic change and enable sustainable development of residential, commercial and industrial space.
The RTPI warned in its report, A Smarter Approach to Infrastructure Planning, published in September 2019, that a failure to adopt a more joined-up approach to planning the UK’s towns and cities will make it impossible to meet these challenges and recommended that local authorities establish dedicated teams focused solely on infrastructure coordination.
Housebuilding is another key focus for the RTPI. We were disappointed not to see a greater commitment in the recent Queen’s Speech to providing homes that will be flexible to meet the changing needs of an ageing population.
We would like to see a higher percentage of smaller homes on new sites and “Lifetime Homes” so that residents don’t have to move out when their needs change.
We also need to secure the trust and engagement of local communities in planning by properly investing in genuine community participation in plan-making.
We believe action should be taken to make it easier for planners to help improve the design of new housing by continuing the good work started in the NPPF and the National Design Guide. It should also be made clear that the inspectorate will support rejection on design grounds. RTPI is engaging with the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission and our Urban Design Network will continue to consider how planning can improve design.
White paper: Planning process
The government’s announcement that it will publish a White Paper to make the planning process clearer is good news, as long as the system is properly resourced.
The RTPI believes it is important that developers are forced to deliver policy-compliant development and, accordingly, that plan policies determine land prices. This will make it easier to deliver housing affordability and the infrastructure to support new development.
We are also excited by the rise of local authority direct delivery of housing, in which planners must play a crucial role. Local authorities can make a significant contribution to housebuilding and could prioritise social, economic and environmental outcomes and high quality design.
Improving the transparency and accessibility of information on land and planning is vital. This can be achieved by investing in plan tech and through making the land registry and OS open data organisations The RTPI’s Digital Manifesto sets out our priorities.
Finally, it is crucial that we ensure the future pipeline of urgently needed planners via apprenticeships and planning schools. The RTPI now regulates two apprenticeships, one at level three for those seeking a first technical qualification, and a programme up to level 7 (master’s level) for employers to provide on-the-job learning alongside a professional degree qualification. This will ensure enough planners are available to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Victoria Hills MRTPI FICE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7929 9494