Some common themes emerged at yesterday’s TCPA autumn conference, Building the Future. Speakers from a range of backgrounds – local authority leaders, local government representatives, planning officers, politicians, planning consultants and not least the TCPA - were united in a call for the planning system to deliver better outcomes: more homes, in the places they are needed, built to high quality standards and at an increased rate of supply than that achieved in recent decades.
Many speakers, endorsed by the conference delegates, want to see a tiered approach to plan-making: from a national strategic plan to provide a framework for infrastructure and demographic growth, through regional plans - there is almost universal dismay at the consequences of the abolition of RSS - which might emerge from a duty not merely to cooperate, but actually to plan together; down to up to date local plans for all local authorities (the emphasis being placed not just on “all”, but also on “up to date”).
There were also suggestions for the de-regulation of planning fees, to allow charges to be made to cover the actual costs of providing good planning services; a reduction in the number of pre-commencement planning conditions which are imposed on planning consents; and a slimming down and rationalisation to reduce in size and complexity the often monster-sized documents that are environmental impact assessments.
Criticism of neighbourhood planning, a fundamental plank of localism, came from several quarters with comments that neighbourhood plans lack planning rigour and that they are a poor fit with local plans.
From both sides of the political divide, it was apparent that localism is here to stay, for the time being at least. It will be manifested in the Labour party’s plans for government as “local community responsibility”. Even so, a number of speakers expressed the clear view that really large new settlements (new towns, garden cities, call them what you may) will not come about unless they are driven by a plan larger than local and coordinated by the public sector.
There was a general acknowledgement that Whitehall can do plenty more to enable local communities to get building the houses they plan for – through use of central government investment, authorising local authorities’ borrowing to fund new council housing, Treasury guarantees and a range of other “tools” which the Labour Party will want to get out of the Lyon’s Review toolbox, including new homes corporations, housing zones, “use it or lose it” powers and CPO powers with adjusted compensation mechanisms.