GBSLEP Board Director Louise Brooke-Smith discusses how a 21st century planning system should be catalyst for improved placemaking

GBSLEP Board Director Louise Brooke-Smith discusses how a 21st century planning system should be catalyst for improved placemaking

17 Dec 2020


For years, the English planning system has been crying out for greater efficiency and simpler processes without the need for radical and complete reform. Many have tried and failed but the recently released white paper, Planning for the Future, perhaps presents the greatest opportunity for change to the English planning system in over fifty years and offers a number of positive proposed changes, if the details follow through.

Perhaps the most promising section of the paper is the increased digitization of the planning system. One of the biggest issues currently facing the planning industry is the extreme amount of caseloads planners up and down the country are currently facing and the way they are administered.

The complex issues pertaining to each individual application often leads to a long, drawn out process which can produce inconsistencies and contradictions. The introduction of increased digital infrastructure and programming could take care of much of the bureaucracy and admin which face those in the planning profession every day both in the public and private sectors.

Freeing up valuable time for planners to focus on creating positive solutions to the substantial planning challenges we face around the housing crisis, climate breakdown and the post-covid recovery, would create developments which foster stronger and more successful communities.

Increased digital tools to engage local residents in the development of local plans also present an opportunity to increase community involvement in the shaping of local developments. This would hopefully alleviate concerns around the currently proposed zonal based land use classification which, as it stands, is potentially too simplistic to deal with the complexity of our urban areas.

Whilst we recognize the flawed nature of the Duty to Co-operate, we are concerned about the lack of clear proposals in its place. Developing places which meet the needs of a green recovery will require substantial co-operation across local authority boundaries.

We are also enthusiastic about plans to put a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments. Just over 380,000 homes granted planning permission between 2011 and 2019 remain unbuilt – accounting for 40% of all homes with planning consent in England. We need to fully understand why and how we can encourage developers to get units out of the ground quicker.

We also very much welcome the commitment in the white paper to an increased focus on design and sustainability - though would stress that new design codes should not limit innovation but allow for creative solutions specific to individual circumstances in order to ensure we are not creating identical developments which inhibit creative flair.

The assimilation of Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy into a single, locally set, easily understandable levy is to be welcomed but again we look forward to more detail as we have concerns as to what extent this would simplify the process, the ability of it to support affordable housing and the failure to take into consideration wider issues such as the increasing dependency on developer contributions.

At GBSLEP we have shown our commitment to supporting the development of high-quality places with schemes such as the Unlocking Stalled Housing Sites Programme, a £9m fund which facilitated stalled housing projects with the aim of increasing the housing population, our current work to develop a thriving PropTech sector in the region with improved PlanTech knowledge, and our Towns and Local Centres Framework, providing research and funding support for the redevelopment of local centres across the GBSLEP geography.

The provision of world class places and quality housing of all tenures is essential to the continued economic recovery and growth of the region and while we still have a way to go to create a more effective planning system that can make the most of digital advances, sections of the white paper present positive changes.

We remain confident that government will listen to the concerns raised, reflected in over 40,000 submissions to the consultation period for the white paper, and we will move forward with an improved planning system which will benefit everybody in the process and act as the catalyst for improved placemaking in the future.