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Planning needs more resources, less tinkering, new Minister is told

The new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has been told that further tinkering with the planning system in England will not lead to faster delivery of affordable homes.

In a letter to Robert Jenrick, welcoming him to the post, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) suggests that his top priority is to give back proper resources and status to the planning function.

‘We welcome Robert Jenrick to be our next Minister at a time when the country is crying out for positive change. We look to him to work with us and others to urgently bring back a robust, forward looking planning function that can propel the country to tackle the economic, social and environmental challenges ahead,’ said RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills.

She pointed out that the RTPI’s latest study, along with many others, has demonstrably shown that the current level of resourcing is unsustainable and unable to support the delivery of 300,000 homes a year.

‘It has also been shown that when you do value and invest in planning you reap huge returns, including substantial income for local authorities,’ she added.

In the letter the RTPI draws the new minister’s attention to its latest research in public planning resourcing which shows that the total net investment in planning in England is now just £400 million a year, or £7 per person, 50 times less than local authority spending on housing welfare.

The study also shows that there are stark regional imbalances that entrench inequality. Total spending on planning per person in the South East and East of England in 2017/2018 was double that in each of the regions in the North of England or the West Midlands.

The letter further pointed out that a focus on planning and its speed has distracted the Government from wider understanding of housing issues around affordability and deliverability, and urged the new minister to stop further tinkering with the system.

The RTPI has set out the profession’s top asks in the Government’s forthcoming planning green paper, including allowing local authorities to set their own planning fees to fully recover costs.

It suggests there should be a mandated chief planning officer in every local planning authority in England, as Scotland has done in its new Planning Act, to increase the corporate status of planning so that it can better influence and contribute to cross departmental agenda.

It also wants to see a standard approach to pre-application discussions to make the planning process more efficient. Pre-application discussions were introduced in the 2000s but their implementation has been uneven and lacking in enforcement.

And it wants compulsory planning training to councillors in areas such as the merits and impacts of development, NPPF and how planning committees should function.