It has repeatedly been said that the UK’s planning system is not fit for purpose. Some have even suggested it is ‘broken’. I would go further and say it is actively counterproductive to its purpose. But I believe the problem could be easily fixed.
For many years, both local and national politics have interfered with planning applications, often to the detriment of local communities. Elected representatives naturally seek re-election. However, this can become an all-encompassing purpose leading to decisions based on the desires of those they believe will re-elect them and not for the greater good of the people and places they serve.
So, how do we fix a broken system? We need positive and constructive action. The industry needs to set aside its differences and come together to support the local authority planning department.
The job of local authority planners is a thankless one. They are educated professionals whose hard work and detailed analysis are consistently undermined by unqualified planning committees.
Our built environment is critical to our social, mental and physical wellbeing. It should not be strangled by nimbyism and politically driven decisions.
Planning authorities’ income, the pre-app fees, planning application fees and planning performance agreement fees should be ringfenced. With the correct investment, local authority planning teams could rival the best private practices in the country. This would help attract bright young professionals who see the public sector as a means for achieving social goals while earning a salary equal to the work they do.
A skilled and fully functioning planning department can attract more development and drive higher standards in design and quality.
Any surplus at the end of the financial year can be redistributed to the local authority. Planning departments, rather than being seen as a burden, could be an asset and better serve the local community, rather than being seen to work only in the interests of profit-focused developers.
Simon Cox is managing director at land agency Walter Cooper