9 July 2010
By Sue Ansbro, Director, WYG
“Keep Calm and Carry On” has been a phrase used regularly in this office over the last few weeks. You can imagine it on the lips of planning officers, Planning Inspectors, Civil Servants and practitioners around the country. No more so than in response to The Secretary of State’s (Eric Pickles) announcement on 27th May to rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies.
Over the next few weeks and months we can expect many statements from Eric Pickles, advice notes from CLG, statements in the House of Commons etc. However, in the short term how should we progress and is there a need to completely re-assess the focus of our approach to development, particularly when it comes to planning for new homes?
It seems to me that our focus at present should be reflective, recognising that we will be in a changed world of policy drivers and increasing emphasis upon local decision making. We need to understand these drivers and how they will influence our strategies for bringing development proposals forward. We must also recognise the issues that will face Local Authorities as their budgets are slashed and the regional strategic frameworks of the Regional Development Agencies are removed, with little clarity at this stage with what and how they will be replaced.
Now is the time to have a rigorous assessment of scheme proposals and to audit their positives and negatives. In particular those proposals which can:-
These will be ones that are most likely to be supported through this new regime. As such, we must review our planning strategies and assess this changed policy approach, considering each site or development proposal in terms of local aspirations. One key to this will be to understand how our proposals may deliver benefits that accord with the local authority’s own priorities (or indeed, abandoned local projects due to cash constraints).
Never has there been a more important time to understand the local decision making structure and to carry out effective engagement with both politicians and local residents. Even with a policy presumption to support a scheme, the other influences upon achieving a successful outcome are even more important to understand and respond to. Community consultation, elected member engagement, effective pre application discussion will take on renewed priority.
On a positive note, there is a real opportunity to work with local authorities and other key stakeholders to find better ways of partnership working to deliver shared objectives. We should not forget that local authorities will themselves be reeling and trying to find ways to deliver proposals on behalf of their residents.
So in responding to these radical reforms of the planning system, we need to be realistic about what is ahead of us, embrace new ways of thinking about the localism agenda and above all, “Keep Calm and Carry On”.