Editor: Britain’s planning system is saddling us with all kinds of social and economic problems and must take a large share of the blame for the housing crisis that is freezing a whole generation out of home ownership. 

shutterstock_2266106503_cred Francesco Scatena

Source: Francesco Scatena

Seldom mentioned, but no less important, are the broader economic repercussions. The planning system’s inefficiencies have resulted in a chronic shortage of housing, laboratory space and Europe’s highest industrial land costs. The inability to undertake physical investment is detrimental to UK science and industry and harms the overall economy. As the noted architect Sir Terry Farrell once said: “We don’t have planning; we have development control.”

This problem demands radical solutions. The government should put poorly performing planning departments in special measures. While enforcing development targets is one option, other measures might involve the partial privatisation of the planning system as a whole – which is not as radical as it sounds, as aspects of building control have been assigned to the private sector for years.

Partial privatisation would be a radical move, but would do much to encourage development in the medium term – pending a more wide-ranging overhaul of planning.

By privatisation, I mean simple applications would be assigned to private consultants to assess under a simple set of criteria, which would not undermine any principles of local democracy.

Planning departments are inundated with rote, non-contentious residential extension applications, which make up about a third of all applications. This huge clerical task takes up much of a department’s time. If this tranche of work could be taken into private hands, planning officers would have far more time to spend on more complex and potentially contentious applications.

In a rough poll I did of some of my contacts among developers, all said they would pay twice as much in planning fees if they could secure a more predictable service.

This partial privatisation would rejuvenate the system and help to speed up the notoriously slow planning process. This would cut costs and encourage development, invigorating the UK’s infrastructure and housing sectors. It would be the catalyst to get Britain building again.

Daniel Leon, director, Square Feet Architects