Planners defend system after coalition attack

Planning professionals have hit out at government claims that the current planning system is a "major barrier" to economic expansion.

Cameron: the prime minister called planners the "enemies of enterprise"
Cameron: the prime minister called planners the "enemies of enterprise"

In a letter to The Times this week, Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) president Richard Summers wrote that planners are often a "convenient sitting target for ministers".

Summers was writing in response to comments made in a speech last week by business secretary Vince Cable in which he claimed that the planning system "has been a major barrier not only to social mobility through its effect on house prices, but to business expansion".

He added: "I hear countless stories of perfectly reasonable developments being thwarted by bizarre planning rules."

But Summers said it was a "curious analysis" to suggest that planning has significantly contributed to the lack of business expansion and the downturn in construction and house prices, as well as being a barrier to development and social mobility.

He said: "As Cable said in another speech on the same day, the main drivers for growth are fiscal and monetary conditions. The slowdown in the property market is the main cause of currently limited development activity, not the planning system."

Last weekend, Prime Minister David Cameron also criticised the planning system. In a speech to the Tory Party spring conference in Cardiff, Cameron said that "town hall officials who take forever with those planning decisions that can be make or break for a business" are among the "enemies of enterprise" that his Government would take on.

Number 10, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) were unable to provide evidence to support the Prime Minister's and business secretary's comments about the ineffectiveness of the planning system as Planning went to press.

But a spokesman for Number 10 said that Cameron's speech was "looking ahead to the Budget in the coming weeks and one of the barriers to growth has very much been the planning system".

He added: "I think it's well known that there is an issue with planning and a need for streamlining."

However, a spokesman for the RTPI said: "It's disheartening to see the planning system attacked, especially given how closely we've worked with the DCLG on the Localism Bill."

The spokesman added that the Government's own statistics seem to suggest that planning can aid enterprise rather than hinder it.

The spokesman added: "Over the last decade, the percentage of planning applications approved by local planning authorities has consistently been between 82 and 87 per cent and the proportion for commercial applications is generally higher than that."

Cameron and Cable are not the first coalition politicians to hit out at the planning system. Last October, communities secretary Eric Pickles said that local authority planning departments were a cross between the "last bastion of communism and sheer bloody mindedness".

The Planning Officers Society has joined the RTPI in attacking the most recent claims. A spokesman said: "Planners are keen to secure the right development in the right place at the right time. They will only reject development if it is inappropriate and will assist in making development happen if it is appropriate."

He added: "Developers must ensure that they provide all the necessary supporting material with an application. If there is a delay, it's more often the case that it's because they omit key matters."


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