Pickles: planners need to prove their worth to survive – is it time for a National Spatial Plan?

Pickles: planners need to prove their worth to survive

It was interesting to read the piece in Planning on the Secretary of State’s recent RTPI Convention address. On seeing the headline I’ll admit to feeling we were heading for another bout of planner bashing, something we’ve all become far too accustomed to in recent years. However, I think there was a significant positive to be taken from his comments.

Sir Peter Hall recently wrote that the UK must plan more proactively, suggesting that we’ve lost the cutting edge position we once held over our European neighbours. This position was countered in a recent letter, suggesting the UK is still seen as a beacon for planning theory. However, I believe that many of us think that as a profession we feel that we don’t plan, even can’t plan anymore due to restrictive regulations and a seemingly constantly evolving legislative framework.
However, the Secretary of State has actually highlighted an incredible opportunity to the profession; plan and you prove your worth, thereby protecting the role of planning which we all champion. The not insignificant matter of job protection is an obvious by-product. Your article closes with Pickles emphasising the need for local interest to be at the heart of future plans and this can’t be argued with, the uptake of neighbourhood planning proves that. I believe however that there is an element missing; strategic direction.

With the revocation of RSS (rightly or wrongly) there is no longer a high level planning strategy for growth enabling development, housing provision, environmental protection – the list goes on. Now has to be the time that the profession, led by the RTPI, TCPA and others, pull together to develop a National Spatial Plan, providing the strategic vision and direction from which local authorities can help residents shape their local communities. Even better, why not use the run up to the 2015 General Election to secure in-principle agreement from the main parties to the idea in order to avoid future political tinkering with the system/policy framework and empower the profession at the same time.

We all win: the profession proves its value, local communities have a greater say in how development shapes their area and ultimately planning can once again be seen in the progressive, proactive light we were seen in 100 years ago. Let’s use the RTPI Centenary to give it a go.

Mike Harris, Bristol


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