Bell on ... best of both policy worlds

Hurrah for the new government. It is giving us both top down and bottom up, what's not to like? A national spatial plan?

We proposed one in the Town and Country Planning Association centenary inquiry report in 1999. Nearly every other country has one, so why should England be the odd man out? As New Labour got into its stride and many others echoed our recommendation, we were confident it was only a matter of time. But the government didn't bite.

Of course, we had the regional spatial strategies. Working in Devon, I found very few who thought the South West was a coherent region for planning purposes.

Driving a car with square tyres was one way to look at it, but as planners we made the best of it. While some of the current shroud-waving is justified, we should remind ourselves of the limitations of the regional spatial strategy.

The national planning framework proposed by the coalition could be hobbled if it doesn't have a spatial plan. If a development is of national importance then it should be consulted on, debated and then settled by parliament, not left to the Planning Inspectorate.

What all parties want to know is what is proposed to go where and how it might affect them. A criteria-based framework is only base camp but at least we are on the mountain.

As for localism Planning for Real has shown that once communities are engaged meaningfully they have positive views to offer. No community is looking for certainty with its planning authority, just a long-standing serious relationship. The same holds true for developers - or it should. Joint ventures will be the name of the game, with every stakeholder seeking success. Get real. Get planning.

Graeme Bell was director of the Town and Country Planning Association from 1998 to 2000 and is a board member of Planning for Real.

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