Planning for the future

27th August 2020 / BY / IN Planning

A few weeks ago, we held the latest in our series of development management seminars.  Knowing what they know about digital solutions and the changes necessitated by lockdown, we asked the senior leaders in planning who attended to create their version of a modern DM Procedural Order. 

A few weeks later and the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick unveiled ‘Planning for the Future’; a White Paper that has been billed as a once in a generation opportunity to reform the planning system and kickstart construction in the UK. 

The paper will be in consultation until the end of October, meaning there is time for debate, alteration, and additional detail, but Planning for the Future does include several echoes of the thinking from the development management seminar. 

What did the seminar attendees say? 

Make it simple 

Lots of planners will tell you that the current procedural order is too complex. Those at the seminar spoke about the need for planners to be able to focus on decisions that shape place and affect neighbourhoods. Self-service technology would enable applicants to make decisions for smaller applications, meaning planners don’t have to spend unnecessary time giving the green light.  

Make it national 

Seminar attendees spoke of the need for national development management policies.  

Make it digital 

Locked PDFs, stacks of paper and notices on lampposts – the current system is blighted by inefficient and hard-to-use ways of communicating and capturing data. Those at the seminar outlined the need for innovative, affordable tech solutions that help planning authorities innovate, free from closed source software.  If simple activities were automated, planners would have more time to deal with complex or major applications. 

Make it transparent 

Instead of conflict and confusion, the planning application process should be open and collaborative. If every stakeholder can see where every major application is up to, it will help remove suspicion and hold everyone to account for delivering.  

Make it faster 

We should consider timescales of 13 weeks for major developments and 8 weeks for other types as the worst we are prepared to tolerate, not the norm.  Targets like these can slow the process down rather than speed it up.  There are lots of smaller schemes that can be assessed in minutes or hours, not weeks.  For these, the slowest part of the process is the statutory consultation period. 

Make it clear 

The role of Members should be reimagined.  It’s important that their role as democratic representatives and their statutory role in planning committees is clearly understood and separate. One suggestion was that they deliver post-hoc scrutiny of the work of professionally qualified planners, rather than be the decision-makers. 

What does the White Paper say? 

Make it simple 

The principle of simplicity is the basis of Planning for the Future. The government want to cut red tape and remove the discretionary nature of DM decision-making, meaning decisions are made within a predictable, rule-based system. 

Make it national 

The paper states that the National Planning Policy Framework is to set national development management policies, which will eliminate the variation and repetition of DM policies across the country. This also means that zoning is the focus of local plans.  

Make it digital 

“No signs on lampposts” is one of the soundbites of the paper. The government are keen to develop an accessible planning system that communities can engage with on their smartphones. It has also been indicated that digital tools will be encouraged, breaking the monopoly held by 20th century software. 

Make it transparent 

The government want every local authority to have a local plan, and they want communities to have a greater say when the local plan is being drawn up. The paper outlines broad plans to build trust in local authorities by, for example, making critical datasets accessible. 

Make it faster 

With a rule-based system, increased automation and a more competitive construction industry, permissions will be granted and acted upon faster. Boris Johnson is targeting record levels of construction in a bid to rejuvenate the economy, and this is the reasoning behind many of the government’s reforms. 

Make it clear 

Interestingly, it looks like the government also want to alter the role of committee members. For exceptionally large sites in growth areas where the principle of development is established, decision making will be delegated to officers. 

Here’s our summary of the White Paper

If you would like to hear about how Mondrem are helping planning services make their services, simpler, more digital, more transparent, faster and clearer, please contact Mike Astbury on mike.astbury@mondrem.co.uk 

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