Awareness gap adds to reform confusion

Time now for the latest instalment in the great planning reform shambles. Barely a week goes by without further evidence that the updated system is not so much stalling as failing to even reach the starting line.

The hold-up on appeals at the Planning Inspectorate is well documented.

Now something even more fundamental is wrong, according to think-tank Regional Futures.

Regional spatial strategies, by which much of the reforms stand or fall, are the latest cock-up in slow motion. If more than 70 per cent of representatives from the local, regional and national bodies involved in them do not even know what they are, we have a much bigger fiasco on our hands than deputy prime minister John Prescott's referendum defeat in the North East. In fact, the general view is that such strategies are traditional land-use or development plans rather than the overall frameworks for the regions that they are supposed to be.

The think-tank finds widespread failure to arrive at a shared vision of sustainable development. This is not surprising, as many planners do not understand the concept while the ODPM has fudged the balance between environmental, economic and social objectives in its draft PPS1. In an era of joined-up thinking and partnership, planners still do not talk to their counterparts in health and education, who happen to be among the biggest spenders in the public sector.

These are not teething problems but a sorry state in which people do not understand a crucial part of their role, never mind not having the right training or resources to do the job. This time last year, Prescott called for "a faster, fairer, more efficient planning system". Those words sound hollow now.

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