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.