Mike Hayes, who took over as RTPI president last month, is an enthusiastic proponent of this inclusive approach. He has also been at the cutting face of the planning system, having served as chief planner of Liverpool and Glasgow and head of regeneration at the inner London borough of Lambeth. He is currently director of development and environment at Watford council.
Building: All too often, developers, housebuilders and architects find it frustrating to deal with development control sections of local planning departments over their planning applications. How would the RTPI tackle this problem?
MH: As our manifesto for planning published last November puts it, the RTPI is campaigning for development control to be replaced by "development management". This involves turning what is regarded as a negative regulatory process into a positive one. People should be encouraged to recognise the positive contributions the process makes, such as creating new places and homes and distributing cash to local communities through section 106 agreements.
Planning departments are overwhelmed by their workload. Are the extra resources earmarked by government adequate to increase staffing and skills?
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is injecting an extra £350m over three years, and this is a welcome start. Some of this will be used to recruit more people, as we reckon the UK is short of 4000 planners, about 10–15% of the workforce, I should think. But we need to do more to attract people into the planning system. One-year postgraduate courses are now being set up that should appeal to young people, and we also hope to attract more applicants from minority groups. And to address the skills gap, we hope that more funds will be put into the system by increasing planning application fees. At present the maximum fee is only £20,000 on developments that could cost several billion. Compared with consultants' fees, which could be as much as £500,000, this is a very marginal cost. So many developers would welcome an increase in fees if it means they get a response within a reasonable time.
Planning departments are increasingly criticised for lacking Urban Design skills. How do you think this can be rectified?
For two decades, design hasn't featured in the planning system, which is wholly wrong. Planning schools and independent training agencies are now putting on urban design courses for planning officers and councillors. But we need to do more.
Would you say the RTPI wants planners to become more proactive rather than just reactive?
Yes – we planners like to think we have vision. But vision without action is hallucination, and I think we are now inheriting the consequence. So we do need to be about development. And the business of making action plans is becoming more important.
It’s bananas – and that stands for ‘Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone’
Developers and architects are getting worried that the nimby tendency is growing stronger and planning committee councillors are trying to appease it by rejecting planning applications. How do you see this?
Yes, it's bananas – and that stands for "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone". The planning system is the agent for delivering government policy and, particularly in the South-east, local planning committees don't like that sort of policy. They feel they have things imposed on them without context. The spatial development strategies proposed in the current planning bill should provide this context. This should lead to a debate about why we need more more houses and other developments, and I think this will help.
How effective do you think the new planning bill going through parliament will be?
The jury's out. For a long while, we've wanted the planning system to be seriously reformed. One criticism is that the new process will be more complex than before, but we're dealing with a complex world. The driver has to be a sense of vision. And the trick for planners is to be lightfooted without getting bogged down in bureaucracy.
What new initiatives is the RTPI taking?
We are setting up a nationwide system of planning aid with an injection of £4m in government funds, and we already have 650 volunteers. Planning aid should help deliver the government agenda of community engagement. At present people don't know about the planning system until it hits them, and then it immediately becomes a confrontational issue. But planning aid should turn it into a more positive, proactive process.
Your expertise is in urban regeneration. How do you think this could be better organised?
Although we are getting better at urban regeneration, the big criticism is that there are too many one-off initiatives, and people don't buy into them. We've got to recognise that urban regeneration is not one-dimensional: it covers many economic, social and environmental issues. And people have got to be at the heart of it.
A world where nothing works
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