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Radical reform of planning at heart of new coalition plans

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A radical shake-up of the planning system has been promised in a new document setting out the coalition government’s long-term aims

Ministers have also vowed to ditch Regional Spatial Strategies, abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and take forward the Conservative’s ‘localism’ agenda as part of its programme for government released yesterday (see document attached).

The 30-page proposals include scrapping the Government Office for London and ‘considering the case’ for abolishing the remaining Government Offices, as well as ditching all but ‘the most popular regional development agencies’ - and converting those into Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Public procurement could also be overhauled, with more work being awarded to smaller practices.

Key pledges:

  • to ‘rapidly’ abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils, including giving councils new powers to stop ‘garden grabbing’.
  • to ‘radically’ reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live, based on the principles set out in the Conservative Party publication Open Source Planning.
  • to abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.
  • to publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities.
  • to maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation - similar to SSSIs - to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.
  • to abolish the Government Office for London and consider the case for abolishing the remaining Government Offices.
  • to create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.
  • to support the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships - joint local authority-business bodies brought forward by local authorities themselves to promote local economic development - to replace Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). These may take the form of the existing RDAs in areas where they are popular
  • promote small business procurement, in particular by introducing an aspiration that 25 per cent of government contracts should be awarded to small and medium-sized businesses and by publishing government tenders in full online and free of charge

Full RIBA response to coalition programme

The coalition Government rightly focuses on banking reform, business and encouraging the UK to prosper but we urge the government to recognise the positive impact that the construction sector and architecture has on the UK economy, both here and abroad, as well as the value of improving public places and spaces to our society.

We are very supportive of the points made on procurement, particularly the commitment to improve government contracts with SMEs and change the current ‘gold-plating’ of EU rules. We will be working with the Government to improve access to procurement for small and medium size practices and on our ‘Smart PFI’ rules which we know they are very interested in.

We support the move to a more local system with a sensitive planning system adapted to deliver what people need in a local area but we are concerned by some of the proposals as laid out in the Conservative Open Source planning proposals which the coalition has committed to implementing. What the system needs at such a precarious time is certainty and we are not alone in thinking that a ‘radical reboot’ to the planning system may not provide that. Yet involving local people in plan-making by supporting effective consultation and strengthening the plan-led system should give a great legitimacy to the process and move away from a development control system. If involving local people reinforces nimbyism then this could be very damaging both for local areas.

If regional structures are to be abolished then a strengthened national planning framework with specific multi area agreements on issues such as flooding or infrastructure will be needed.

We feel there needs to be greater commitment to home energy efficiency measures and a comprehensive package addressing minimum energy efficiency standards, Pay as you Save schemes, and strengthened use of energy performance certificates in the sale or rental of homes as well as tax incentives and use of the Green Investment bank for energy efficiency would all contribute towards a much more ambitious programme of retrofitting homes.

Speaking today, RIBA president, Ruth Reed said: ‘We welcome the clarity on areas where there has been contention between the two parties and some detailed policies have been set out, however there is clearly much more detail to be worked out in some areas. Positive localism could transform local communities if the right kind of consultation is used to produce some well designed buildings. What we warn against is any changes to the planning system which will lead to uncertainty and delay construction.’


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