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RIBA president hits out at ‘short-termism’ in government planning

The RIBA has hit out at the coalition government’s ‘unhelpful’ planning policy for leaving the UK with ‘poor-quality places’

In the RIBA’s written advice to Labour for the political party’s Planning Policy Review, launched in Parliament earlier this week, RIBA president Stephen Hodder said: ‘The [government’s] National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is heavily skewed towards the interests of developers over those of the public [and] the decision to entrench financial viability at the heart of decision-making is […] embedding a short-termism at the heart of the system which overrides any recognition of the longer-term costs that poor development will bring to communities and the public purse.’

Suggesting a way forward for the Labour party Hodder, concluded: ‘The priority, is not to embark on another programme of wholesale planning reform but to bring about a culture shift which places a greater emphasis on the quality of place and addresses the imbalance between the economic, social, environmental and cultural roles of the planning system.

‘Planning needs to be proactive rather than reactive…underpinned by longer-term thinking and a coherent and creative vision.’

Bottom-up planning is not the answer to every question

‘[The Labour party] should recognise the crucial role that local government can play in delivering a new settlement… [and] not see bottom-up planning as the answer to every question.’

RIBA head of external affairs Anna Scott-Marshall added: ‘The current government has done a lot to focus on the planning system and to streamline policy and guidance but they also need to empower local authorities to make the right kinds of strategic decisions.’

Town and Country Planning Association chief executive Kate Henderson commented: ‘The RIBA is correct to highlight that, without further guidance, the narrow definition of viability in the NPPF risks undermining the future wellbeing and resilience of our communities by reducing the delivery of social and affordable housing and weakening positive action on responding to climate change.’

Read the RIBA’s advice to the Labour party, see paper attached.


Hodder on the coalition government’s reforms
‘The [new] government came into power with a localist agenda and a determination to remove the excesses of regulation and bureaucracy within the planning system. The reforms made through the Localism Act and the NPPF were commendable on the most part. Giving communities a greater say in the planning process and greater opportunity to bring development forward themselves was the right response to a planning process which often only provided communities with the opportunity to say “no”.

‘Similarly, the broad thrust of the NPPF and in particular the strong policy on design and recognition of the role of design review within the planning system is to be praised.

However, the NPPF is heavily skewed towards the interests of developers over those of the public.

‘The decision to entrench financial viability at the heart of decision-making is having a particularly pervasive impact, embedding a short-termism at the heart of the system which overrides any recognition of the longer-term costs that poor development will bring to communities and the public purse.

‘The rules on viability are increasingly undermining the ability of councils to take decisions which promote sustainable development and this has been compounded further by the dismantling of the infrastructure needed to promote good design outcomes.

The abolition of the RDAs and Cabe has left a void in design expertise

‘The abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and Cabe, coupled with deep cuts to planning departments has left a void in design expertise and capacity. Local authorities are now stuck between a rock and a hard place: without the resource and skills to take a proactive, positive approach to help deliver high quality places and under increasing pressure to ensure that development is delivered quickly.’

‘The irony of localism has been that, at the same time as local government has gained new powers, its capacity to use them has been shattered. Spending restrictions have forced difficult choices on councils, which has in turn devastated planning departments. In 2011/12 alone, the Audit

Commission figures show that planning and development budgets were cut in local authorities by 27 per cent, with a further 7 per cent cuts the following year. As a result, many councils are unable to play a meaningful role in shaping the future of the places they serve.’

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