Policy Exchange Report on Planning – expert comment

Following The Times’ story on the Policy Exchange report on planning and plans to overhaul the system, Paul Smith, MD of Strategic Land Group commented:

 “The planning system is very recognisably the one that existed in 1947 when the socio-economic challenges facing the country were very different. The principles underlying the system are containment and redistribution of growth, with Green Belt policy perhaps the best example of that.

“It’s very clear that the current system is not working – only around half of councils currently have an up-to-date Local Plan, and housing supply is significantly short of what is required to address the housing crisis. It’s also undoubtedly the case that anti-development special interest groups are having an increasing influence on the process – more and more local councils either include or are run by “independent” councillors who have campaigned on expressly anti-development platforms.

“This all combines to increase the costs of securing permission for development, acting as a barrier to new entrants and stifling innovation.

“The proposals that have been floated in the media – which appear to amount to something more akin to a “zoning” system – will help address some of those issues by allowing for more certainty in the process. It looks set to separate discussions about the principle of development (usually the contentious bit, which, as a result, absorbs most of the planning officer’s time) from the detailed design of development, which probably has a greater impact in the long-run but is often paid less attention. That, thereafter, has the potential to deliver better quality places.

“The challenge for this sort of system is ensuring that placemaking isn’t lost. Ensuring that a mix of uses can be achieved and that gentle density can be encouraged in the right places will require careful thought around how the rules governing the form of development are set up.”