Is planning a guiding light to economic recovery or a handbrake on growth?

I spoke at the Sweet & Maxwell Planning Law Conference on the 11th February under the banner The planning system: a guiding light to economic recovery or a handbrake on growth? and very topical it was too. 

Interestingly, one of my suggestions to a question from the floor on speeding up the planning system has supposed support from the Liberal Democrats; abolish Secretary of State decisions. 

Why do we need Secretary of State intervention? When one stops to think about it, it’s the antithesis of Localism, brings a strong whiff of politics into decision making, and it undermines the process and impartiality of the Planning Inspectorate. I think there’s plenty wrong with the planning system, but the quality and integrity of appeal inspectors is not one of them. 

The fact that the Chief Planning Inspector, Helen Adlard, was sat next to me had absolutely no bearing on my support for her appeal inspectors, albeit I was a bit sheepish about the title of my topic paper: RIP The Development Plan System. I’m not sure I got away with claiming it stood for ‘reasonable improvements proposed’. 

Anyway, Helen took my comments in good grace, and made a few scribbles. My main gripe is that development plans are far too preoccupied with due process and being ‘sound’.  What I want them to do is to enable developers to put forward sites, have the proper scope to quiz local authorities on their emerging proposals, and fundamentally ensure that developers and landowners feel suitably engaged to participate in development planning. 

John Walker of Westminster City Council and Jonathan Bore of Kensington & Chelsea (from the floor) made a number of comments that would have heartened the development industry. In fact, it was remarkably how much consensus there was in the room: John’s comment that planning has become a bolt-in for a plethora of other environmental and social requirements (affordable housing, sustainability, flooding to name but a few) certainly resonated across the public and private sector representatives. 

Thanks to Simon Smith of Sweet & Maxwell for giving me the platform to vent my spleen. 

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