Former presidents call for rational discussion amid accusations of scaremongering

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has called for calm in the increasingly acrimonious debate over the future of the UK’s planning policy

In a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph 23 former presidents of the RTPI called for rational discussion on what has been seen by many as one ofthe most significant planning reforms in decades.

“The current debate in the media about planning reform, with claim and counter claim, highlights the importance of planning for economic growth, building communities and the conservation of our cherished spaces and places,” the RTPI letter states.

“However, this debate has now descended into open hostility on all sides, with each party interpreting the same policy in very different ways.”

The recent draft National Planning Policy Framework changed planning policy to favour sustainable growth over other concerns, but critics have raised concerns that it will lead to a return to damaging development.

Business leaders including the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) and conservation groups led by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust have been increasingly vocal in their attempts to sway both government and public opinion over new planning rules.

The RTPI letter comes days after a report by the National Housing Federation (NHF) that home ownership is set to fall to levels last seen in the eighties. The NHF, which has accused conservation groups of scaremongering, has said that home ownership could fall as low as 63% over the next decade.

However despite housing minister Grant Shapp’s call to “get Britain building” in the wake of the report the RTPI has criticised the government for trying to speed through changes to the planning system overnight.

The RTPI said: “While we recognise this urgency and support the government’s overall objectives, the unintended consequences of this haste are greater confusion, uncertainty for the development industry and anxiety for communities.

“Good planning is also about the long, as well as the short term. What we need is a reasoned debate and clear thinking on managing this major change.”

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of CPRE, has accused the government of siding with developers against all other interests: “The country needs more new homes. But the government has chosen to swap one form of imposition - Labour’s top-down housing targets - for another, in which development is pushed through without proper respect for places or the people who love them.”

Speaking to The Times, departing BCC chief cxecutive David Frost called on the government to “hold its course’ in the face of opposition: “The government is absolutely right to move on planning but my worry is that it is going to stall. It has to hold its course.

“There is a stand-off and you have serious forces lined up against the proposed change,”