England & Wales Housing and planning

Radical ideas for a better planning system


The planning system is not fit-for-purpose. A group of academics at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning (BSP) have developed a report outlining its shortcomings and suggesting some radical changes that are necessary. Yvonne Rydin, from the BSP explains.

Radical Ideas for a Better Planning System criticises the lack of a national Spatial Plan and the overemphasis in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) on promoting economic growth, rather than considering well-being in the round. It highlights the absence of regional planning and the over-centralisation within the system. The planning tool-box is seen as fundamentally lacking in the means for effectively implementing strategies, and this is analysed as rebounding negatively on the involvement of people in local planning activity.

In response, five ‘radical ideas’ are put forward:

  • embedding a central concern with well-being within the NPPF;
  • devolving planning powers;
  • recognising the benefits of planning regulation;
  • land reform, encompassing land value capture and long-term public land-ownership of major development sites; and
  • tackling the democratic deficit in planning.

In this short piece, devolution of planning and the democratic deficit will be briefly discussed.

Devolution to city-regions is currently a main plank of the Conservative policy agenda for local government. As with the earlier neighbourhood planning reforms, there is much to be welcomed here. But the BSP report points to how such devolution should framed by the subsidiarity principle, that sees planning issues systematically dealt with at the lowest appropriate scale.

Current proposals fail to put in place a form of regional planning across the country to deal with issues such as major infrastructure and inter-regional inequality that demand treatment at this scale. They also fail to set city-region planning within a national spatial plan and they fail to ensure that planning from neighbourhood, through local and city to regional scales is adequately resourced. Without this, devolution will result in an ad hoc partial restructuring of English local government creating more confusion and favouring the economically more buoyant cities.

Devolution also creates challenges for engaging local communities. The experience of neighbourhood planning shows that it is possible to involve people in active planning for their local area where they can see the direct relevance of the plans being produced. But it also shows that such activity requires resourcing particularly to avoid inequalities in community representation.

Creating such engagement at wider scales – the city or the region – has often proved problematic. People need to be convinced that their contribution will count. Consideration needs to be given to novel means of engagement whether web-based or exercises in deliberation, always aware of the resource implications which can be considerable with deliberative approaches.

Perhaps elected representatives can be more effectively involved, melding representative and direct democracy. This might be a way to address the difficulties of community engagement at the regional scale, where business, service and utility stakeholders can readily dominate residential community interests.

Full details of all the BSP’s ‘radical ideas’ are available at: www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/planning/five-radical-ideas

Yvonne Rydin_PICTURE   

Prof. Yvonne Rydin is Chair of Planning Environment and Public Policy at The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL