Planning manifesto offers a robust solution in tough economic climate

The RTPI is to produce a strategic document that will encourage the public to get involved in development decisions affecting their future. But its success demands active input from members, explains Martin Willey.

Planners approach a general election next year with a great deal of uncertainty. The government is seeking to complete a programme of changes to regional planning, streamline the application system and provide a system to plan for major infrastructure and assess proposals.

At the same time, resources are being diverted away from the planning process to support other initiatives of a lesser priority in the current economic circumstances. Local authorities suffering or anticipating cutbacks, a public sector that is reducing consultancy business and pressure from developers to cut their costs to boost economic recovery all challenge the task of creating of sustainable communities.

Will there just be a "reshuffling of the pack" following a change in government, or fewer planners? Will the planning process be challenged by a shortage of resources and development? Emphatically not. Planning becomes vital in a recession - managing delivery and quality, offering incentives, helping sustainable solutions and providing leadership for recovery.

The institute needs to remind all political parties of planning's value. At the next general assembly, we will be inviting representatives of the three main parties to attend and present their views on planning.

A subsequent 2010 RTPI planning manifesto might include a restating of planning's value and purpose, especially strategic planning at different levels. It is all about creating attractive places in which people wish to live and work. The planning system offers a robust and evidence-based framework for aligning public and private investment.

Planning allows decisions to be taken between competing priorities and interests and offers a medium for the alignment of nearly all public stakeholder policy and for cost-effective spatial solutions. The planning process also provides the legal framework for development decisions, contributions and community engagement. Planning Aid has been successful in engaging the disadvantaged in the planning process.

Issues of sustainability, climate change, infrastructure and development can be tackled to win public support. Chartered membership needs to be obligatory for planners. An RTPI manifesto must resolve difficulties, pose policy lines and show proof of success, while offering support in finding solutions to unresolved problems.

Tensions between speed, participation and sustainable quality in the application process are being managed in the Neath Port Talbot development management system, where most resources are put into the pre-application stage. As a result, the authority has reported a 40 per cent boost in efficiency (Planning, 28 August, p24).

Across the country, the Greater Norwich Partnership of four authorities is demonstrating that sub-regional planning structures can serve wider needs and also prepare a plan for an area recognised by the local community it serves.

The housing market seems to be recovering and figures show that start-ups have risen. There are a number of reasons behind this, particularly a slow increase in credit and a shortage of supply. The people who need housing have not disappeared and house builders and developers must build if they are to remain in business. Refinancing has left them in a strong position to build sustainably.

The RTPI's seven commitments to deal with climate change have identified ways for the profession to plan for existing communities as well as new developments and to seek to influence behaviour by offering information and solutions for mitigation.

Planning resources must deliver new energy infrastructure. The statutory process for engaging the community in planning tackles localism. Could LDFs pick up all the other local strategies such as housing and sustainability?

Any RTPI manifesto needs to reiterate the rationale for good planning, focus on process improvement and give best practice examples that anticipate changes in government policy. We all need to remind politicians that planning offers an equitable cross-cutting process unlike any other public service.

We will shortly be announcing proposals to engage members to ensure than our manifesto contains the strongest possible arguments to influence the political parties.

Martin Willey is RTPI president.


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