President's Blog April 2018

10 April 2018

Talk about things happening when your back is turned for just a moment.

I happen to go on holiday for a couple of weeks at the beginning of March (went to Sri Lanka which is a lovely place with really friendly people but it does also face some challenging development and traffic management issues) and the planning world starts spinning around once again!

So as of 5th March we have a new ‘consultation’ version of the National Planning Policy Framework, and loads of other associated new policy initiatives, to review, to contemplate and to comment upon.

Well, from my first impressions what are the key issues and challenges that I think this updated version of the NPPF brings to the table? In terms of my initial thoughts, and indeed it was not a surprise as it was heavily anticipated, the emphasis upon the delivery of additional new homes is very much the fundamental principle and the clear priority that underpins the whole of the Government’s proposed amended approach to planning.

I’d like to think that everybody recognises that we do face a serious housing delivery and availability challenge and it is therefore right that appropriate responses to that should be prioritised. However, in doing that, we do also need to recognise that we do live on a crowded island, and it is therefore essential that the related environmental and social aspects of growth also need to be appropriately balanced. Importantly, that also means that we all need to recognise and value the benefits that can be derived from subjecting potentially sensitive proposals for development to the objectivity and scrutiny of the planning process.

Notwithstanding that focus on housing, to my mind perhaps the most intriguing part of the whole consultation relates to the potential changes in the required approach that the proposed imposition of the ‘Housing Delivery Test’ would bring to the culture and workings of Local Planning Authorities.I’ve consistently thought that, given access to the right resources and related skills, Local Planning Authorities could practically do more to facilitate the delivery of appropriate forms of sustainable development. Therefore at the conceptual level the Government is right in thinking that the grant of the planning permission should not be the end point for effective local authority involvement in the planning and development process.

Going forward we all know that Local Planning Authorities can be highly effective problem solvers and blockage removers. However to rise to that challenge and to be truly effective it will be vitally important to ensure that Local Planning Authorities do have access to the right tools to do the job.

From my experience if Local Planning Authorities are supporting landowners/developers who want to deliver quality development that can be a very positive process. However, if we are now expected to engage with people who don’t actually want to build out then Local Planning Authorities really do need practical powers to be able to intervene.

All in all this looks like we will all have to once more be prepared to proactively deal with considerable change, certainly in terms of the ways that many Local Planning Authorities have traditionally operated. But be assured that POS will continue to lobby hard regarding us getting the right tools to do the job and for us to be able to respond effectively. I also think that we may all need to be suitably creative in our approaches.

Anyway, time passes quickly and consequently I’m rather sad to say that my Presidential ‘year’ is now pretty quickly drawing to a close although to some extent I do hope that the main event is yet to come. The tradition within POS is that at the end of their year in office the out-going President arranges and hosts, within their work area, the society’s annual conference. So accordingly on the 14th and 15th June I shall be really pleased to welcome this year’s conference to Stamford in southern Lincolnshire. If you don’t already know it Stamford is one of England’s finest Georgian towns and of course it was also the first Conservation Area to be nationally designated in 1967.

So on the Thursday, following what will now be a highly topical keynote from Steve Quartermain, the Government’s Chief Planner, there will be an obvious focus placed upon how high quality growth can actually be delivered within the historic environment. On the Friday there will be more of an emphasis upon the challenges associated with delivering strategic growth, at both the local and national levels, and upon the nature of some of the related innovative responses from Local Planning Authorities. I think that POS are putting together an outstanding conference programme and there will be much more about it in next month’s blog - but please do treat this as your early warning as I’d like to see as many of you in Stamford as possible.  Details of the full programme and booking information can be viewed following the link to the POS Events page of the website.

Steve Ingram, President 2017/18