Development framework views spell defeat of reform ambition

Although they rarely tell the whole story, surveys often provide a snapshot and a good indicator of where we are now.

The poll of planners' views on local development frameworks (LDFs) by the Town and Country Planning Association and Cushman and Wakefield adds some flesh to anecdotal bones. While 122 respondents might not represent the fullest ever picture, they certainly offer an uncomfortable impression.

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 reforms have hit a brick wall. Fewer than 20 per cent of planning authorities have completed their core strategies. The only surprise is that so many have succeeded, five years after the shake-up was introduced. It speaks volumes that 68 per cent of respondents cite the main cause of delay as a lack of resources. At a time when applications are in the doldrums, there is a very strong case for switching council resources to plan-making.

But there are other intractable problems. Synchronising regional plans and government office advice is also difficult, with 40 core strategies in the South West facing delays. The chopping and changing in ministerial policy has achieved a small rainforest of documents, widespread confusion and consultation fatigue. This is the downside of placing planning centre stage for every conceivable challenge without resourcing it properly.

Already planners have to consider an ever-lengthening list of matters, from combating terrorism to flood control. Food supply is the next major issue likely to hit their in-trays. Of course, some of the changes are still bedding in. Yet the fact that more than two-thirds of respondents hold that the LDF system has not led to meaningful public involvement is alarming. Most damning of all, 97 per cent do not believe that LDFs lead to faster plan-making.

With that kind of reaction, is the system really working? The government's mantra that the reforms would lead to a "faster, fairer and more transparent" planning system now looks like empty words. Moreover, the most obvious point has been overlooked. A plan is of little use if no-one understands it and it ends up gathering dust on a shelf.

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