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RTPI chief urges planning reforms

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Royal Town Planning Institute senior vice-president Michael Haslam has condemned house planning and development controls as 'bureaucratic, overcomplicated and in need of radical reform'.

Speaking at last week's Housing Design Awards, staged at the RIBA, Haslam also lashed out at the hypocrisy of housing protestors' attempts to thwart green belt developments.

'It is a sad reflection on the state of society that almost every new housing scheme, however well designed and wherever located, seems to attract opposition - mainly from the well-housed, ' said Haslam, who gave his backing to the promised green paper on planning system reform. 'Development planning and development control systems have become so bureaucratic and overcomplicated that they are in need of radical reform so that scarce resources can be deployed to make things happen.'

Crucially, Haslam insisted that the right of British citizens to decent housing was being undermined by the housing industry's public image crisis. Public acceptance of large-scale developments was critical, he said, if the country hoped to meet 21st century housing needs: 'There is a large section of the population whose housing needs are not being adequately met. The problem is primarily one of under-funding of the housing associations which provide the bulk of new social homes.'

Haslam's concerns were echoed by National House Building Council chairman Graham Pye who, after visiting shortlisted award entries, felt that the 'hand of the planning authority' was not always positive. 'Stereotyped assumptions had interfered with the opportunity for fresh thinking, ' writes Pye in the awards handbook.

Ironically, Roger Stephenson, director of Stephenson Bell and the winner of three awards, rejected the suggestion that planning was excessively bureaucratic. But he expressed alarm at the increasing level of poor designs winning planning permission.

'I would like to see a reform whereby only architects can apply for planning permission. Too much rubbish is getting permission and there is no qualitative control. Planners are not the aesthetic police but nevertheless there is a problem with style, ' said Stephenson.

Organised by the RIBA, the RTPI, the National House Building Council and the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, this year's crop of entries for the Housing Design Awards - up 26 to 194 - was dominated by private or public/private initiatives (see right for winners).

Handing out the awards, RIBA president Paul Hyett said he was impressed with the the mix of new build and refurbishment projects. 'This is a process which is much more conciliatory in terms of the evolution of the city than the uncompromising and comprehensive redevelopment that was endemic in the '60s and '70s, ' he said. 'At last RIBA appears to be pushing at an open door.'

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