Last month, the government released its long-awaited ‘Planning for the future’ white paper. Intended to streamline the planning process and ‘get Britain building’, the reforms had been eagerly anticipated across the property sector.
The white paper included a range of proposals that, if enacted, could result in a shift in focus and responsibilities for planners – particularly within local authorities.
For instance, setting housing requirements and development management policies at a national level and reducing the evidence base required to inform local plans will likely release capacity in local authority planning departments. But other proposals such as the introduction of pattern books and design codes may require new or specialist resource. But where will that skilled resource come from?
In general, the number of planning officers has declined over the past decade as a result of public sector budget cuts. In many cases, local authorities no longer have dedicated urban design, sustainability or ecology officers.
If the government’s proposals are brought in, local authorities will need to make sure they have the skillset required to carry out the reforms successfully. Upskilling and training planners will be crucial if we are to deliver this shift in focus.
There is an additional challenge in that the sector also needs to ensure its workforce is as diverse as possible. It is now well-accepted across the sector that increasing diversity is crucial to ensuring that new places reflect and embrace the whole community for which they are designed.
The introduction of planning apprenticeships last year was a great first step to increasing diversity, but it is clear the sector still needs to go further to attract and retain talent from a wide range of backgrounds. This is true for both the private and public sectors of the industry.
These reforms have the potential to completely overhaul our planning system, but without additional funding at a local authority level they might not achieve what the government had hoped.
The public sector is filled with talented planners. Working alongside the private sector, we need to ensure they have the right resources available to make these reforms a success.
Anna Relph is associate director at Turley