Consultants find scope to stay focused in economic downturn

Nobody can keep breaking records year on year indefinitely, and planning consultancies are not immune from this rule of economics.

Amid a global financial meltdown, it was always inevitable that the escalating growth of the past five years would slow. Before prescribing a dose of Prozac, a reality check is needed.

Major schemes have been halted and the housing market is in freefall. Continued regeneration of towns and cities is on hold unless the government can discover even a fraction of the largesse it bestowed on a ruinous banking system. Only an ostrich with its head in the sand would deny that times are tough. Yet given the circumstances, and compared with other parts of the economy, this week's Planning Consultancy Survey (see page 15) shows that the sector is proving remarkably resilient.

Whatever the merits of nuclear and renewables, the UK faces a colossal challenge if it is not to trigger an energy crunch that will make the present credit crisis look like a tea party. The education and health sectors both promise massive building programmes that will need considerable planning. There is a major opportunity to promote green technology as a new strand of economic development. Other countries are keen to seize on this and the UK should not hold back.

The problem of climate change will not go away any time soon and the nation still needs to build homes. Moreover, the latest planning reforms mean a new era of development plan documents. These are in varying states of progress but offer a vital map of how development will work in the round. Any developer or landowner missing out on this process is committing long-term suicide.

There may well be other economic mines beneath the surface. Naturally, in uncertain times opinion is divided on when the upturn will come. But come it certainly will, and those who are ready for it will be able to cash in. The challenge for a future administration will be to make good on prime minister Gordon Brown's now notorious boast of avoiding boom and bust economics and stop such a meltdown happening again.

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