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Does the Localism Bill signal the death of the planning profession?

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 24 MARCH 2011

Town and country planning in England is undergoing one of its most fundamental changes since the inception of the planning system in 1947. However, a planning expert at Birmingham City University believes that the current localisation agenda will lead to ad hoc and parochial planning based on short term needs rather than set within a planned framework of sustainable development.

Dr Alister Scott, a Reader in Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University, says: "According to Ministers the new planning system is about Localism, Localism and Localism and occasionally they change the order. There is much to commend about the ideas of localism and delegating authority to the lowest level for decision making. However they are now throwing the proverbial planning baby out with the bathwater and enough is enough

“This government believes that some key planning functions can be given to local community groups. This ideal perhaps more than anything else illustrates the way the Minister fails to understand the role of planning and, more importantly, the status of planning as a worthy and valuable profession. To train as a planner takes up to five years with RTPI accreditation and yet the government believes that many community groups can take over these functions voluntarily as the Big Society culture spreads across England in a tidal wave of local action.

“I wonder how people would react if instead of planners we decided that lawyers, teachers and doctors were equally replaceable by volunteers. Moreover one of the best kept secrets over the last few years is that planners have been doing despite the limitations of a labour government some very good planning which epitomises exactly what the government are claiming to want. Planning is too important to be a political football when one considers that it defines our quality of life and ultimately our happiness!

“There are fundamental problems with this whole philosophy which the Minister needs to be taken to task over.

  1. Planning is a profession requiring years of training and professional support. Planners are doing a key job under difficult circumstances.I see that role as shaping peoples quality of life through working collaboratively with all stakeholders to secure good quality places and environments. This is too important to be a part time or voluntary occupation.
  2. Communities need support and boundaries for their ideas and visions. It is here that the well trained planner has a key role as a facilitator and enabler.
  3. In a recession and with people struggling to make ends meet there will be less people able to volunteer to deliver the Big Society. Consequently most 'communities' will be run by self imposed elites who have the time and might make decisions based on their own interests rather than all the groups that reside in such areas.
  4. The cutting of Planning Aid where professionally trained planners support community groups who cant afford to employ consultants clearly signals the perverse nature of the Big Society rhetoric.
  5. If community groups can prevent or allow development they will be liable to legal action in cases where developers appeal. Who will volunteer knowing that they can be subject to developer challenges and legal costs.Issues of national and European law apply here.
  6. Neighbourhood plans are key element of the new planning system. However such plans by their very definition will require Strategic Environmental l Assessments under European and national legislation. Given the ministers drive to get rid of planners who will carry these out and who will pay for them.

“Planners are taught the importance of process in their work. The need to show thought and awareness of all the implications of their actions and to plan upon good evidence and not presumption or dogma.”

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