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Real cultural change is needed for planning system overhaul to succeed


Hats off to Keith Hill for his vision statement for Planning Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1). As well as emphasising the importance of 'encouraging good, inclusive design', and of the need to 'avoid stifling innovation, originality or initiative', planners are advised to consider sustainable and economic development, social inclusion, protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources. Perhaps most importantly, they are advised that 'policies and guidance should recognise that the qualities of an outstanding scheme may exceptionally justify departing from them', signalling a clear intention to move away from 'tick-box'planning procedures towards a more creative approach.

But these laudable ambitions will, inevitably, make more demands on our already overburdened planning system.While Hill asserts that 'Our planning system has served the country well for many years', there are few who would agree. Perfectly capable planning officers find themselves battling with the inertia and bureaucracy. Any successful overhaul of the system will require real cultural change.

The draft version of PPS1 emphasises the fact that 'local policies should be based on a proper assessment of the character of the surrounding environment and landscape, and should take account of the defining characteristics of each local area', reinforcing the received wisdom that applications should be determined locally. But, as Brian Waters argues in his review of the planning system on page 46, the time-consuming business of processing and evaluating applications could be carried out elsewhere. If any planning authority or other certified agency were able to prepare reports and recommendations for the relevant planning authority, applicants would learn to apply to the most efficient organisation, introducing a muchneeded element of competition. Fees could be split between the processing and determining authorities, penalising unpopular or inefficient authorities by loss of fee income.

Another welcome tenet of the proposed PPS1 is that 'local planning authorities should not attempt to impose a particular architectural style arbitrarily'. Planners who are obliged to consider outside opinion will, inevitably, find parochial prejudices more difficult to defend.

Isabel Allen

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