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Planning: the Green shoots of recovery?

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The planning process is in desperate need of an overhaul - but is the long-awaited Green Paper going to help? On page 73, Brian Waters sets out ways the paper aims to speed up and simplify the system, along with the reservations from the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA).Broadly supportive, the ACA's concerns focus on operational issues and detail. More fundamental criticism was voiced at this year's annual RIBA council club dinner by Theresa May, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. For May, the paper 'addresses the wrong question'by asking how the system could be speeded up, as opposed to 'how to restore integrity in the system and hence people's confidence in it'.

May criticised the current 'adversarial'system whereby residents become involved in the planning process at the point where they attempt to block a development.

'How much better', she argued, 'if there was more involvement of people up-front, so that discussions on what was needed locally and how it could be provided took place before decisions on a particular proposal.' But only a tiny minority becomes involved in knee-jerk 'notin-my-backyard'protest that currently passes for pluralism.Time is precious, and most people have no desire to expend energy on local planning issues. They simply want to know that if they want to extend their house the planning application will get a speedy response, and that the bigger decisions are in safe hands.

This, in turn, is dependent on another of May's (rather more realistic) contentions - that local authority planning departments ought to be better-equipped to act efficiently and to make 'proper judgements'about 'quality issues'. It would take an increase in funding, and a shift in emphasis, to prioritise design expertise. But we might just find that spurious - but politically expedient - babble about community participation becomes redundant, as the public becomes aware that planning departments can be trusted to do their job.

The Green Paper is out for consultation until the 18 March.

Register your view on www. planning. dtlr. gov. uk/consult/ greenpap/form. htm

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