Planning officers will have to self-organise and push for a place at the top table of their councils if they are to “get their voice back” in local government, according to the chief executive of the Town & Country Planning Association.
Kate Henderson, who leaves the TCPA for the same role at the National Housing Federation in October, told LGC that change in the profession was “unlikely” to come from the government and would have to come “from the ground up”.
In an LGC interview at the 2018 Housing conference in Manchester, Ms Henderson said: “I think it’s very unlikely at this stage that the government is going to say to the planning profession that there is going to be a magic plan.
“People in the planning sector are the unlockers of investment decisions and the facilitators of sustainable growth. You can’t make great places without them and if we’re going to build more houses then I think the change is going to have to come from the ground up.”
Ms Henderson spoke to LGC after delivering a speech in which she said: “Planning is in a bad place at the moment. Officers are very demoralised. They’ve been delivering some pretty rubbish places that they’re not proud of for years, but that’s not because of planning – that’s because of a lack of planning.
“You can’t make great places without [planners] and I think the change is going to have to come from the ground up.”
Ms Henderson continued: “Planners are going to have to campaign to get their voice back at the top table of local government. I think that the voice [of change] is going to come from the bottom up.”
“Radical, root-and-branch” reform
The TCPA said last month that planning deregulation was causing a decrease in genuinely affordable homes nationwide. Developers are not required to deliver affordable housing in properties that do not require full planning permission, such as with office to residential conversions. This worsened a situation in which two-thirds of councils describing their need for more affordable housing as severe, a statistic from a survey commissioned by association last month.
Ms Henderson told the conference councils were “losing control of the built environment”, due to deregulation.
“By going through this route of deregulation, little to no thought is given to basic issues, such as where children are going to play or if there are enough doctors’ surgeries,” she said.
Ms Henderson also told LGC about feedback received from the interim report of the Raynsford Review, which called for “radical, root-and-branch” reform of the planning system.
“Many of the respondents have said that there is a skills gap in the public sector. There are questions over ‘how do we rebuild it’ and ‘what kind of frameworks do we need?’” she said.
Nick Raynsford, the head of the review’s task force of which Ms Henderson is a member, told LGC in May that his report was looking for a “degree of commitment” from planners towards a “change that is sustainable and is not just tinkering with the system”.
Ms Henderson told LGC: “Media headlines have previously said that we’re calling for a scrapping of the planning system – but we’re not. We’re calling for a new planning system with a coherent framework so all the different parts are joined up.”