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PLANNING REFORM PROMISES WORK

AGENDA

Planning is a subject that seldom attracts front-page headlines, but the White Paper published on Monday (21 May) caused a media farrago.

The government's longawaited announcement on how it will overhaul the creaking planning system - based on economist Kate Barker's recommendations - was greeted with panic and derision.

Most outspoken in its criticism was environmental charity Friends of the Earth, which claimed that the reforms will not only accelerate climate change, but will put an end to democracy in its entirety.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, who spearheaded the White Paper, hopes the changes will fast-track major infrastructure developments such as nuclear-power stations and airports.

Kelly used Richard Rogers' Heathrow Terminal 5 as an example of how the planning system is failing. The project went through an eight-year planning inquiry - the same length of time it took Rogers to conceive, design and build Madrid's Barajas airport.

The Secretary of State also wants to cut red tape on smaller projects, such as improvements to homes and small commercial properties, to alleviate pressure on local authorities.

But now that the dust has settled, the true repercussions of the proposed changes can be fully assessed. According to Boisot Waters Cohen director and planning expert Brian Waters, the White Paper can barely be called anything but a Green Paper.

'This may as well be a consultation document - it is full of aspirational fistufffl and is peppered with questions, ' says Waters. 'Whenever it comes close to saying how it will make these changes, it refers to another document that is yet to be published.'

Despite this, Waters claims that the paper is pointing in the right direction and that, at first glance, it looks as though architects will benefit.

'It has been more than a decade since the government decided to push on with Terminal 5 due to the media and public frenzy - you really can't run a country like that, ' says Waters.

'The big decisions should be taken at government level. . .

The government is dead right to look to a more centralised system like that, and it could then lead to a privatisation in parts of the system, ' he adds.

According to Waters, a more centralised system would see projects pushed through the system quicker - abolishing lengthy delays such as those endured at Terminal 5.

Waters also claims that the reforms proposed by the White Paper will provide greater opportunities for smaller practices.

'The role of architects acting as consultants, particularly on small-scale projects such as extensions or microgeneration devices, will become their bread and butter, ' he says.

'Home and shop owners will begin to turn to architects in greater numbers for advice on whether their developments will need planning permission, ' Waters adds. 'And this, in turn, could lead to more design work for architects.'

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