Boosting planning resources and skills key to delivering government homes target, says minister

Boosting resources and skills in the planning system will be key to delivering the government's housing targets, the planning minister Kit Malthouse said today.

Kit Malthouse speaking at the TCPA conference earlier today. Pic: TCPA
Kit Malthouse speaking at the TCPA conference earlier today. Pic: TCPA

Speaking at the Town and Country Planning Association’s annual conference in London this morning, Malthouse said "there is a need to think about resources" in the planning system to enable it to deliver the government's 300,000-home target by the mid 2020s. 

"It has become clear that planning is not a priority across local government – only 20 per cent of local authorities have a planner in their top management team," he said.

"If we are going to achieve this target, that all has to change because planning is about so much more than regulation. If we downgrade planning, then we are downgrading vital expertise just when we need it the most."

Malthouse said the government was still "thinking about how we might introduce" the further 20 per cent increase in planning application fees it has previously consulted on, following the initial 20 per cent increase in January. "We are willing to look more at what we need to do to increase capacity," he said.

Malthouse also said the problem was a shortage of people in the profession. "I acknowledge that there is a shortage of planners," he said.

"It is not just about volume but about planners in the right places at the right time. This is going to be critical as we stand on the cusp of this great era of housebuilding," he said.

Malthouse added that it would be crucial to find ways of sharing resources and spreading expertise. "It is interesting to see new models emerging," Malthouse said, citing the example of the Public Practice social enterprise, which aims to boost public sector planning capacity and skills.

"We need to think about how we move skills around – the majority of local authorities don’t get enough complex, difficult, large-scale applications in to warrant a senior planner on a permanent basis."

Finding more ways into the profession would also be crucial, Malthouse added.

The minister also said the government had received 100 applications for new garden communities, equating to half a million new homes. This was "an extraordinary signal", he said, that local authorities "are willing to embrace ideas of greater capacity and design."

But Malthouse said he was concerned that there was a trend in masterplanning towards producing "ubiquitous uniformity in the high street".

"Where is the space in masterplanning for a delightful varied streetscape or quirkiness?" he asked.

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