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Is it possible to combine local control with promoting national growth?

Paul Finch

How do we square the circle of national priorities, regional regeneration and a sense of local empowerment, asks Paul Finch

For successive UK governments, policies to give local people more control over their immediate environments have been in conflict with the desire to promote growth and/or regeneration. Ministers have simultaneously demanded more consultation and speedier planning – without pausing for laughter.

The cynical view is that politicians want to give ‘communities’ maximum control over minor issues, but little say over anything really important. It is unacceptable, for example, for a neighbourhood to promote a policy of no development on their patch, however firmly held that view may be. Meanwhile the more talk there is of local identity, the faster we see the closure of fire stations, libraries, post offices, police stations (just pop along to the non-local post office!) and swimming pools.

Arguments over major developments might be described as trial by ordeal, to test the staying power of those proposing change

Planning officers have to hold the ring between conflicting interests and desires, producing the built environment we have around us. The usual arguments over major developments might be described as trial by ordeal, to test the will and staying power of those proposing change. But let’s remember that this is not typical of the vast majority of planning decisions, made on the basis of advice from a hard-pressed professional group forever having to adopt, adapt, absorb and advise on endless changes of policy and guidance.

Not surprisingly the accretional nature of planning in the UK has resulted in layers of planning law which have had the effect, at worst, of creating stasis by finding reasons to say no rather than yes, and of imposing cost and time delays on anyone who wants to build anything substantial. Hence the National Planning Policy Framework tried to reset the context in which planning takes place. So far it is still subject to amendment and/or challenge.

That context should be much more concerned with local communities, say those politicians who invented the concept of localism. That concept is now enshrined in law, even if there seems to be a dirigiste spirit abroad which is more worried about growth than local corns being trodden on. The question remains: how to square the circle of national priorities, regional regeneration and that sense of local empowerment. In the context of the Great Brexit Shambles, that is doubly so.

Well done, president

As Ben Derbyshire bows out as RIBA president, he can reflect on two years of what a previous president, Michael Manser, described as ‘national service’. And he can be proud of what he has achieved in getting the institute on to an even keel after the groundwork of Jane Duncan in coping with the disastrous era while Harry Rich was chief executive.

The RIBA is in healthy financial order (example: it can now pay off the mortgage on the premises leased along the road); it has a robust strategic plan; and if all goes well, it will have a lively weekly (Wednesday) event series, starting courtesy of the revived RIBA Trust, in mid-September.

It was also helpful having a president who is a housing expert at a time when so much government attention has been focused on that subject. I don’t think he will be lost to public life, even though he will go back to full-time practice with renewed vigour.


Readers' comments (10)

  • Benny Darbishyre bows out with about as much legacy as Trezza Mayday, as the RIBA faces further irrelevance and a rightly declining membership. Keep taking the pep pills Paulie.

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  • Given this level of wit, no wonder you prefer to remain anonymous.

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  • I have to temper my wit to reflect the accuracy and veracity of your journalism. Needless to say it is a race to the bottom, particularly concerning your reportage of environmental issues, which has included advocacy of fracking, ignorance of climate change and the environmental impact of buildings at London 2012 recently.

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  • I don’t respond to personal abuse.

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  • Constructive criticism is hardly personal abuse. You should be mature enough to take this on the chin from your audience, and possibly even respond to it by educating yourself in the issues that you publish opinions on. You are the mouthpiece for a profession, admittedly a declining one, but you should still take that responsibility seriously.

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  • It is not constructive but it is abusive. Do tell us who you are if you want to be taken seriously.

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  • It is certainly constructive and if expressing an opinion is personal abuse, you seem to have made a career of it. You are very wide of the mark on environmental issues. Encouraging fracking in the north of England is simply dangerous and destructive vandalism. I suggest that you consult the research and experience of fracking in the USA and inform yourself. It is currently not possible to take your opinions on these matters seriously.

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  • Tell us who you are.

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  • I am Number Five.

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  • Yawn. Over and out.

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