President's Blog October 2018

22 October 2018

I thought after my last few blogs that I’d start with sharing a little of how I spent the last week of September, which proved to be challenging, fascinating, worrying and heartening in equal measure – pretty typical for many of us I expect.

The usual mix of leading a core city planning department, encouraging investment to support major regeneration needs, a policy team gearing up for an imminent Local Plan examination, finding acceptable value engineering to bring a major new college hub back to budget and exploring whether a Joint Venture might be the way to drive development of the city with reduced capital but being asset rich.  And being in the middle of the most challenging budget setting round after 8 years of austerity in the face of rising demand and expectations locally and from government.

My highlight of the week was to launch Nottingham’s Urban Room.  An idea first sparked by the Farrell Review in 2013, it has taken 5 years to bring together a broad partnership and lots of favours to achieve a space where we can engage people to discuss the Past, Present and Future of the city.  And most importantly to enable ideas and innovation – “to do things that nobody has told you to do” – and drive the quality of place as the city grows and changes.  If you want to take a look you can view the website here.

A meeting mid-week with the RTPI’s Chief Executive Victoria Hills who was visiting Nottingham to talk with her regional team allowed me to show off the preparations for the Urban Room launch but the important conversation we had was how POS and RTPI can work better together across the country and our shared wish to promote great planning and best represent and support planners.

At the end of the week I chaired an excellent POS Joint DM and Policy Networks Conference. These happen annually now and have settled on Birmingham as the venue to try to make it as accessible as possible.  We’d love to welcome you next year if you weren’t able to make it this time.  We had great presentations from MHCLG, PINS, PAS, Homes England and Solihull’s Chief Planner. With lots of information, thoughts, feelings and questions shared and prompted, I don’t have the space to do it justice but my unattributed headlines and thoughts from the day were:

Planning, and what we do, remains under an increasing political spotlight but the language from government does feel a little less about blame and is moving towards expectations of how planning can help make great places.  That’s the good bit. 

If we do the maths, then in reduced and overworked planning strategy and policy teams, the future planning of the country is probably in the hands of not many more than 1000 planners spread thinly across our 300+ councils.  That is a lot of responsibility and a simply unacceptable state of affairs in the absence of any coherent national spatial plan.

There feels a tangible absence of links between the NPPF as our new framework for planning the nation and the essential rebalancing of the economy through the Industrial Strategy and infrastructure investment decisions.

Are we sleepwalking into the implications of the Housing Delivery Test and its penalties?  We don’t appear very agitated about the loss of local control this will bring for some of us. 

Local planning still is presented as the scapegoat, with a big stick waiting to strike and very little access to effective tools to actually deliver the homes that are needed.  The need for a mass programme of council house building feels ever more essential. 

Time will tell whether we are being set up to fail but meantime most of us battle away despite having fewer and fewer planners and resources to make great planning and places happen.  None more so than in Solihull where we heard from their Chief Planner, who is translating the political ambitions of growth into high quality place making deliverable plans that will make a difference to people.  It matters who the chief planner is but equally importantly where this post sits in the Council’s management structure.  An argument we need to continue to be loud about and draw together convincing evidence. 

And finally I think I have realised our USP as public sector planners – we are THE expert ‘Jack of all trades’ – our roles, experience and training mean we have to appreciate the broad context and need for contributions from other professions and departments.  We understand that the best plans and decisions are collaborative ones that seek out wide engagement and we are uniquely placed to do this.

Paul Seddon 

President 2018/19

Update: Planning Resource published a survey in September on the impact of the planning application fee rise and local planning authority resourcing levels.  POS had the opportunity to input into the shaping of the survey.  The timescale for completing the survey has been extended to Monday 29 October at 8:00pm. If you have a broad understanding of your departmental budget and staffing resources then we would encourage you to take part in order to make this as authoritative as possible.  The questionnaire should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.  The survey can be accessed here.



Category POS news