Another Review

“You’re joking, not another one?” (Brenda, April 2017)
This was my reaction too. But let’s try to suspend our cynicism. 
The Raynsford review of planning has been instigated by the Town and Country Planning Association “to identify how the Government can reform the English planning system to make it fairer, better resourced and capable of producing quality outcomes, while still encouraging the production of new homes.” Evidence will be gathered over 18 months with a report to be formally presented at all major party conferences in autumn 2018.
Background papers have been published by the TCPA:
* Background Paper 1: Creating a blueprint for a new planning system in England 
* Background Paper 2: The rise and fall of town planning 

* Provocation Paper 1: Do we have a plan-led system? 

* Provocation Paper 2: People and planning 

The papers are good and if anyone is going to review the planning system then TCPA president and ex Labour housing and planning minister Nick Raynsford is the right person, backed by a heavyweight team (albeit one that is light on developer input). 
But…
Here we are in a becalmed area of policy making, away from the high winds and storms of Brexit, with so many unfinished changes to our current system (a July 2017 House of Commons Library research briefing on the Government’s Planning Reform Proposals counts 22 of them). There have been too many ideas but not enough sieving. There’s an implementation logjam. 
There is little governmental appetite or capacity I’m sure for further significant reform in this Parliament. Putting it charitably, Alok Sharma has hit the ground walking, with little other than disparate funding announcements (eg in August announcements of £6.2m funding for Didcot garden town and £65m funding for build to rent at Wembley Park) and trumpeting of at best inconclusive home start statistics as to new homes starts.
Furthermore, what role does a review have where it has not been called for or endorsed from government, and is one which is led by a former Labour politician, however experienced in the issues? The planning system is a machine, big cogs, little cogs, to deliver the government of the day’s social, economic and environmental objectives. Unless the review is just to be about process, what objectives are to be assumed in framing recommendations? Where is the machine to be pointed? Or is this about establishing a 2020 vision come the next election, but by which time we will be in another place, politically, economically? The past is a different country, but so is the future. 
Too cynical? Perhaps this vulnerable, overwhelmed government, focusing its attention on the impossibility of Brexit, will be only too keen to accept non-partisan thinking. Strike that. Of course it won’t. It pays lip service at best to the recommendations of the Commons CLG Select Committee. It stalls implementation of previously commissioned reports, for example in relation to CIL. I’m sure that the recommendations of the Raynsford report will be wise and wide-ranging. But it will land with a silent thud. 
Has there been any governmental activity that has been subject to quite so many reviews as has the planning system? Perhaps this is inevitable given that planning is a wholly artificial policy construct, a political intervention, but it’s quite a roll of honour:
– Barlow Commission report on the Distribution of the Industrial Population (1940) 
– Utthwatt report on Compensation and Betterment (1941)
– Scott report on Land Utilisation in Rural Areas. (1942)
– Beveridge report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (1942)
– Reith report on New Towns (1946)
– Planning Advisory Group report on the Future Of Development Plans (1965)
– Skeffington report on Public Participation in Planning’ (1969)
– Dobry review of the Development Control System (1975)
– Those influential white papers Lifting The Burden (1985) and Building Businesses Not Barriers (1986)

– Lord Rogers report Towards An Urban Renaissance (1999)
– The green paper Planning: Delivering A Fundamental Change (2001), together with four daughter papers published at the same time. 
– Barker reviews of Housing Supply (2004) and of Land Use Planning (2006)
– Eddington review of Transport (2006)
– Lyons Inquiry into Place Shaping (2007)
– White Paper, Planning For A Sustainable Future (2007)
– Killian Pretty Review: Planning applications: A faster and more responsive system (2008)

– Penfold review of non-planning consents
– The Conservative party’s Open Source Planning manifesto document (2010)
– Lord Heseltine report No Stone Unturned: In Pursuit Of Growth (2012)
Local Plans Expert Group (2016)
– Liz Peace’s CIL review (2017)

Those are just some of the reviews that have been undertaken or sponsored by government, to which we can add work by think tanks and campaign organisations such as the TCPA. There are almost too many to catalogue but how about, for instance, the work of: 
– Policy Exchange eg A Right to Build: Local homes for local people (2016)

– CPRE eg Getting Houses Built: How to Accelerate the Delivery of New Housing (2016)

– the Labour party sponsored Lyons Housing Review Mobilising across the nation to build the homes our children need (2014, updated in 2016)

– Shelter eg Solutions for the housing shortage: How to build the 250,000 homes we need each year (2013)

– Institute of Economic Affairs eg Abundance of land, shortage of housing  ( 2012)

– IPPR eg We must fix it: Delivering reform of the building sector to meet the UK’s housing and economic challenges  (2011)

Lastly, we need to keep an eye on what we can learn from the changes currently underway in Scotland. An independent review of the Scottish planning system Empowering Planning To Create Great Places that concluded in May 2016 has led to the June 2017 Places, People and Planning consultation paper. 

Hats off as always to the TCPA for not giving up, sitting on the sidelines or focusing on the here and now. They deserve, and will need, our support because the review’s outcome will not be a soundbite-sized, easy-to-swallow happy pill but will look worryingly like the work of…

experts. 

Simon Ricketts, 28 August 2017
Personal view, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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