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THE PROMISED THOROUGH PLANNING OVERHAUL HAS NEVER BEEN DELIVERED

EDITORIAL

'The planning system is under immense pressure.'

Nothing new there. 'It gets in the way of economic development.' Heard it before. 'It is in desperate need of reform.' Same again. 'It should be more streamlined.' Ditto.

Proposing root-and-branch reforms to the planning system is about as radical as suggesting life could be made a bit easier for architecture's small practitioners.

When Kate Barker finally released her long-awaited review of the planning regime on Tuesday ( ajplus 05.12.06) it brought on a long metaphorical yawn. Was there anything genuinely new in what she had recommended to prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown?

And would it actually be forced through?

Planning reform has been on this government's agenda ever since it was first elected, and even though changes have been forthcoming almost monthly, there has been no sense of the promised thorough overhaul.

Architects and their clients still suffer almost exactly the same problems they did 10 years ago.

Make no mistake, Barker has been thorough.

She's taken a magnifying glass to the planning system and analysed it in a way only a career economist would. She believes it is far too slow and meddles in too many unimportant projects.

Efficiency must be improved, involvement in small-scale schemes pared back and developers and architects left with a system that is more responsive, proactive and sympathetic.

The proof of the pudding, however, rests with Brown. When he makes the inevitable move to Number 10, will he have the guts to put planning reform at the top of his agenda? And will he stick with the changes needed despite the inevitable temptation to water them down?

Even if the proposed reorganisation isn't hugely new, Barker has once again reiterated the key role planning holds in this country's future well-being. Let's hope Brown is listening.

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