Is planning reform missing a key piece?


Last year, the government announced a wide-ranging raft of proposed reforms for the planning system in the UK. Describing it as a ‘once in a generation’ change, it was widely panned by the planning community. While I understand the RTPI’s point of view, I actually believe it also misses out on a key opportunity to develop planning in the UK.

First, let’s explain the key changes proposed by the government (the full document):


  • Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process, harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, making it more accessible.
  • Green space will be protected and all new streets are to be tree lined.
  • Homes will be built quicker and ensure local plans are developed and agreed in 30 months, down from 7 years. Every area will have one, whereas currently, only 50 per cent do.
  • All new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’.
  • A new national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often cause delays.
  • The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.
  • The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently, around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned.


The response so far


The RTPI responded with an open letter detailing their criticism in which they highlight the last three points made above. This new system would dumb down planning and make it easier for developers to build houses without town planners having as much input. RTPI Chief Executive, Victoria Hills, rightly explains that the government’s perspective on the planning community is incorrect – they aren’t there to turn down inventive and exciting proposals that are bettering communities, but act as a ‘safety belt against bad practice’. Planning schemes are often being turned down because they aren’t going to better serve communities and living spaces, but because they provide a better income to developers' wallets. 


This isn’t a blog designed to shame a type of business – I work with a number of developers who design and build genuinely exciting new places to live, investing in green spaces, quality living, and inventive new ideas such as modular housing. But the government’s solution to building more houses is only going to incentivise bad developers to get away with more, building poor quality ‘cookie cutter’ homes while taking a larger profit share.


The problem at hand


What the government hasn’t done is properly address the lack of funding the planning community has received over the last decade. When I speak to directors or partners in the planning private sector, working for developers or consultancies, they speak overwhelmingly of being able to positively grow their teams, their workload and their projects. However, with so much of national austerity being pushed into council cuts, the government has missed how many local authority planning teams have been slashed over the years. Many have smaller planning teams than they need to manage caseloads of proposed developments, or create local plans, which is why these things are often so delayed. I even once had a consultancy who were hiring asking me not to recruit from certain local authorities as they had major developments in those areas and felt it would be a detriment to them if that council had even fewer planners to deal with them. Instead of sweeping changes that shift the balance of power towards developers, the government needs to invest in public sector planning. And this is what I think the government has truly missed, investment into technology.


What can be done about it?


While the key proposals for its suggested changes do mention harnessing technology to make planning more accessible, they haven’t taken into account the shift of how planners have been working during the pandemic. The government needs to provide funding not just to hire more planners, but to invest in making it more appealing for planners to work in the public sector. While many consultancies have planners returning to work in hybrid office/home roles, the public sector should be able to provide their staff the chance to take part in appeals through video connection and better software allowing for caseload review through remote access. This would also mean more investment into modern technology for public sector planners, higher quality cameras, and faster internet connections, especially in rural and remote corners of the UK where public sector planners are more likely to be living. Architects and engineers regularly have major software updates allowing them to achieve not just higher quality designs faster, but also to better align themselves with each other before and during the construction process. This is something we never hear the planning community look at despite software playing such a key role in everything we now do, including planning.


As we slowly begin to leave this pandemic behind and look at the decade ahead, surely it is time for the government not to make sweeping changes to our planning system, but instead invest more into the public sector. By offering more flexible ways of providing public sector planning services, and better connectivity, the government will make public sector town planning a more attractive proposition, and with it a better, faster planning system.

Back to blog
Log In.

Apply now:


Please note: we only accept .doc, .docx and .pdf files

Refer A Friend:


London Wildlife Trust.

We are proud partners of The London Wildlife Trust, a charity dedicated to protecting the wildlife and wild spaces of London by driving environmental projects throughout the city. Our team often get involved at ground level in Wild Workdays by helping to maintain and restore treasured spaces and land… we love to get our hands dirty! We also run multiple interactive workshops, providing their conservation trainees with invaluable career advice and insights into the environmental sector to prepare them for employment. Most recently, we worked with young people taking part in their Keeping it Wild programme, which engages young people from backgrounds currently under-represented in nature conservation.

Royal Town Planning Institute.

The RTPI represents planning professionals in the UK and Ireland and aims to encourage the development of vibrant and prosperous places and communities. Our Senior Consultant Freddie enthusiastically attends the annual Planning Convention, and we host several events throughout the year to show our support, including drinks networking and a literal pub quiz. We also keep in close contact with our friends down under, at the Planning Institute Australia and New Zealand Planning Institute. In addition, we sponsor the London Planning Summit, an event designed to address the biggest challenges facing the industry. This is our opportunity to stay on top of the latest changes in town planning by meeting with other key professionals in the sector, while celebrating our achievements.

Land Securities Group Plc.

One of our clients, LandSec, are the clever people behind Girls Can Do It Too, an initiative designed to encourage girls to consider a career in construction. Currently, only 11% of the construction workforce are female, and LandSec are attempting to increase this number by providing education and engagement projects and workshops for girls aged 11-13. Featuring workshops on demolition and tower building, as well as challenging the girls to design a planning project of their own (with a focus on budgeting and environmental considerations), LandSec have proven their dedication to addressing the need for diversity in this very male dominated industry. Ruth assists the project by sharing her fascinating insights into the industry and is even on the project judging panel!

Urban Land Institute.

In partnership with Urban Land Institute we are able to play an imperative role in creating a larger and more diverse pool of candidates within the planning & property professions. Working in schools we take part in the Urban Plan Educational workshops programme, which has now reached more than 2,500 pupils in 100 schools since its launch. Alongside more than 200 industry volunteers engaged across the country, we provide invaluable industry & careers advice to students while guiding them through their workshops and helping judge their presentations.

Carbon Footprint.

Carbon FootprintTM works to help organisations offset their CO2 through tree planting and community projects worldwide. By partnering with Carbon FootprintTM, we have planted native trees and shrubs such as Whitebeam, Hazel, Field Maple, Silver Birch, Rowan, Beech, Blackthorn, Holly and Dog Rose to create a Mattinson Forest that spreads across South East England. Carbon FootprintTM work in conjunction with the Florestal Santa Maria Project (FSM-Redd Project), designed to reduce deforestation in the Amazonian Rainforest. So, for every tree we plant in the UK we guarantee a tonne of CO₂ offset in Brazil too. Carbon FootprintTM have allowed us to not only do our bit for the environment but also commemorate moments of growth for our clients and candidates.