Andrew Ross BW 2018

The Raynsford review of planning, led by former housing minister Nick Raynsford to identify how the government can reform the English planning system, has caused a stir. Strong claims made by Raynsford that the planning system is “not fit for purpose” and that “we can’t go on like this” have understandably sparked a debate about the planning system in England. 

The purpose of the report is to highlight how to make the planning system fairer, better resourced and capable of producing quality outcomes – aspirations on which we can all agree. 

However, the contention that the system should undergo a comprehensive reboot is misguided.

It is simply not the right time for a complete overhaul of the system – and a call for this ignores many positive aspects of the English planning system.  

We can look at the volume of development activity currently taking place across the country, and the prevailing economic confidence that underpins this. A total reconstruction of the planning system will only serve to create great uncertainty and could potentially impede much of this activity.

The interim report lays out nine propositions for a new planning system. This provides a useful starting point, but these points alone will not deliver the practical solutions that are wanted and needed in the short term.

The system should be seeking evolution rather than revolution. Deliverable outcomes and practical solutions are needed in the short term, much more so than lofty long-terms aspirations which could take years to realise. The priority should be evolving the system to deliver the right housing in the right places, to support the economy as we face uncertain times, and to ensure that we provide the infrastructure needed to underpin both.

The Town and Country Planning Association, which commissioned the review and is due to publish a final report in the autumn, should refine its ambition and ensure recommendations are made which focus on tangible solutions to live issues. There is a place for setting a vision for the long-term future of planning to ensure it operates in the public interest, but this will count for little if this vision is not accompanied by a focus on the here and now.