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NEW STRUCTURES FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT WILL NOT WORK FOR PLANNING, SAYS RTPI

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The Royal Town Planning Institute has expressed deep concern about the implications, for planning, of the new local...
The Royal Town Planning Institute has expressed deep concern about the implications, for planning, of the new local government structures currently being put into place.

The president of the institute, Brian Raggett, has written a letter, about these concerns, to local government minister Hilary Armstrong.

A copy of the letter follows.

Dear Minister

NEW POLITICAL STRUCTURES FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT: IMPLICATIONS FOR PLANNING

I am writing to express the Institute's deep concern about the implications for planning of the new political structures for local government currently being put into place.

We start from a position of wholehearted support for the Government's objectives as set out in 'Modernising Planning' (January 1998). We welcome the emphasis of the Local Government White Paper on the duty of local authorities to use planning, along with other powers, to shape the future of their areas. An effective planning system is crucial to achieving these objectives.

Planning is fundamentally a creative and positive force. Local government needs to have structures for planning - in many respects the most important area for the exercise of discretionary powers by local government - that maximise the potential of planning to be creative and positive, and neither dissipate its effectiveness nor, worse still, frustrate its purposes.

We believe that a fundamental difficulty in the new structures is the separation of plan and policy making from development control, and their allocation to cabinet and committee respectively. We think this would be a huge mistake. Plan making is a collaborative process that needs to be as open as possible, and as accessible as possible, to the community and all its elected representatives.

Development control is not - or should not be - an after-the-fact regulatory process. It is instead the implementation of the plan, and as such continuously feeds back into it, identifying the changes in circumstances which require changes in criteria, revision of policies and supplementary planning guidance.

It is vitally important that those who guide the preparation of plans should be, as far as possible, those who work to implement them.

We appreciate that 'Local Leadership, Local Choice' envisages that successive drafts of the plan will be put to the full Council for adoption, and that guidance would encourage the executive to involve other councillors in its preparation. We do not think that this will work.

The sense of ownership which we consider vital, and the synergy between policy and control which is more important than ever in the plan-led approach of Section 54A, can be achieved only when plan making and development control are integrated fully in the Council's decision-making structures.

The same reasoning applies to an authority's management structure. This Institute has recently published a report on 'The role of planning in local government', aimed at elected members of local authorities. I enclose a copy. It argues strongly that all local authority planning functions should be integrated within a single directorate, not split between different management structures.

The scope for creative, proactive planning will be found in the connections between these functions. Connections are more likely to be made if the functions are integrated. As far as the public - the customer and client - is concerned, this integration is the best way of providing them with an accessible, understandable and effective service.

I am sure that you will understand that, because this issue is so important, the Institute will be making the text of this letter available to the media.

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