Only one in ten London and North West chief planners at top council level, RTPI research finds

New research by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) shows that only about one in ten councils in London and the North West of England have chief planning officers represented at the most senior level.

Planning departments: research finds heads of planning rarely at most senior levels of local government
Planning departments: research finds heads of planning rarely at most senior levels of local government

The RTPI surveyed the management structures of 192 local authorities in the three English regions, plus Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

It found that only 23 per cent of authorities in all these regions and nations had a head of planning service at the second tier of local government, which means they are part of the senior management team who report directly to the chief executive.

About 60 per cent were in the third tier, the next level down, and just under 20 per cent in the fourth tier.

A breakdown between the different nations and regions shows wide disparities. 

In England, the North West had the lowest proportion of planning chiefs in the second tier, at about 10 per cent. In London, it was just over 10 per cent while in the South East it was just over 20 per cent.

In Wales, the figure was almost a quarter but in Scotland, it was under 10 per cent, the lowest in the UK.

The highest proportions of chief planners in the fourth tier was in the North West and Scotland, both almost at 30 per cent.

The report states: "Making the role of the chief planning officers a more prominent and strategic position within local authorities would improve the perceived value and influence of the profession.

"But most importantly, it would positively influence the outcomes of planning and support good growth.

"This would also ensure that the spatial implications of other local authority functions are considered, better informing planning decisions and local plans and making the system more effective."

Meanwhile, nine per cent of authorities did not have an individual post holder responsible for planning, the research found.

According to the study: "Often the most senior position was split between head of planning policy and development management. As well as being unlikely to have the desired corporate influence, these planning services may have problems ensuring joined up working practices between the teams."

Furthermore, 60 per cent of heads of planning services had other areas of responsibility within their remit, such as economic development, building standards, housing, regeneration and transport.

The report states: "There is a possibility that some of these areas work well being represented alongside planning at a corporate level, but some could add time constraints to the individual in that post and undermine their ability to represent planning effectively at a corporate level."

The RTPI's Chief Planning Officers report can be found here.

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