Many planning professionals, used to hearing such denunciations from sources that want to further undermine planning, will instinctively bridle at Raynsford’s findings. The report is conscious of the danger that its criticisms might be used to further disempower planning authorities, leading to even more poor quality development. But the review team, convened by campaign group the Town and Country Planning Association, is certainly not hostile to planning, and its key message is that the system needs to be reinvigorated to deliver the kind of places in which most members of the public aspire to live. "There are big problems with our current planning system, but equally there is a major opportunity to reimagine the system so that it can help make people’s lives better by driving effective change," the report says.
The solutions offered by the document are wide-ranging. It proposes a new legal purpose for the system "to positively promote the long-term sustainable development of the nation and the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals". It wants to reinforce democratic and community control of development. Local plans should be made more powerful, and only deviated from "in exceptional circumstances". It urges a duty on councils to ensure that locals get the access to information, the right to participate and the right to challenge that it says they need to shape planning decisions which affect them.
The report also wants the system to ensure that the public enjoys a bigger slice of the benefits generated by development. Finally, Raynsford warns that planners are facing pressures to act in ways that pose serious questions about compatibility with the RTPI code of professional conduct, and urges that their professional duty to deliver public benefit should be reinforced.
The big question is whether the report’s proposals are practically and politically deliverable. Raynsford acknowledges that the kind of reinforcement of the planning system that he proposes will face political opposition. "Not everyone will be happy with a system that delivers greater certainty – particularly not those who have done well in land speculation," the report says. But he argues that the potential coalition of beneficiaries, including those "in construction, infrastructure delivery and the provision of the multiple market services that go along with the creation or renewal of communities" extends well beyond planning campaigners and the public sector.
Raynsford is asking all those involved in shaping the built environment to look at the planning system objectively, and ask whether they really believe it will generally lead to good outcomes in its present form. As unwelcome as the prospect of further major planning changes will be to most in the sector, the Raynsford review has made a compelling case for radical reform.
Richard Garlick, editor, Planning // email@example.com
The review report was launched on Tuesday 20 November and can be downloaded in full here