On Sunday, Brian Raggett, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute will present magic powers, rabbits and other party tricks, when he reveals the results of a recent survey.
In it he asked the question: 'If I was granted magic powers, what would your three wishes be, for changes to the planning system during 1999?' Over 100 respondents gave their views, including 30 planning officers, other institute members and representatives from the property world. Some of their responses were light-hearted, some were serious and many were surprising.
By far the greatest number of replies from planning officers focused on two simple but important things:
2. Enforcement to be given some 'real teeth', with breaches to planning control being regarded as a criminal offence, incurring penal charges of, eg double fees or full costs.
Other priorities from the planning officers included:
Greater emphasis on added value in development control
Urban design training for DC staff
The presumption that planning consent would normally be deemed to be granted after 12 weeks
Clearer guidance on those decisions to be delegated to council officers
More positive intervention to secure social housing
Dramatic reductions in highway specifications
In Brian's survey, he also asked about 'the bigger picture' that the government should focus on for the forthcoming urban and rural white papers. The answers were plentiful - with some real cries from the heart:
'Transport, transport and transport'
Replace the green belts with a new and better system
Instil genuine vision, rather than a focus on detail, into councillors' minds
Increased taxes on second homes.
The property industry's views were equally radical, reflecting naturally their particular 'bete-noires':
Major proposals should be decided by a professional group, not just a lay committee
The director of planning should have a vote (perhaps even a weighted one)
Councillors should be excluded from decisions in their own wards
Easy and cheap access for the public to see all application drawings
Concern that there should not be too much emphasis on preserving buildings and maintaining the status quo; so that redevelopment opportunities are not lost
Training to ensure that 'commercial reality is driven into the planning system'.
Finally, the survey showed that, above and beyond the criticisms, there is a high level of support for the work all planning authorities are doing; but as Brian concludes: 'The government clearly needs to get its carrots in place - particularly in the public/private transport debate - before it encourages too much use of the big stick. We can't just rely on magic!'
Meanwhile, in his opening address to the summer school, first secretary of the national assembly for Wales, Alun Michael, revealed his thoughts on how the new assembly would handle planning appeals in the principality.
He proposed that important planning appeals decisions - those that were not to be taken by the planning inspectorate under delegated powers - should be decided by a panel of assembly members in a manner which he vowed would be open and clear.
He proposed that such an approach should also apply to major cases, which the assembly might see fit to 'call in', although he stressed that the assembly would bot want to take more cases than absolutely necessary out of the hands of local authorities.
The first secretary promised tougher tests on out-of-town shopping proposals and a new planning research programme to look at issues unique to Wales.
He spoke of his desire to develop the agenda for planning in Wales in partnership with local government, and to seek collaboration with adjacent English authorities.
The Welsh assembly, he assured delegates, is an exercise in devolution, not separatism.