The planning profession needs love too: It is seen as an obstacle to overcome – but it’s a positive guide to development
Planning underpins our daily lives. From the houses we live in to the offices in which we work, or the streets that we walk down every day.
It is the glue that binds together the entire property sector – a tool used by people and politicians alike to shape the built environment, as well as the communities and economies it supports.
As we face an ever increasing housing crisis, it is little wonder that planners have taken centre stage, after a report by the House of Lords' National Planning Policy Committee called for the planning profession to "regain the status and prestige it deserves".
Both government and industry have consistently identified planners as the blockage in the system – the spanner in the works, stopping the market delivering the homes we need.
Meanwhile, council planning departments and planners have been caught in the crosshairs as government seeks to cut costs, while at the same time deliver on the localism agenda and meet ambitious housing targets.
It is in these challenging circumstances that a planner’s value is judged. Balancing national policy needs with local demands, in the context of often very polarised debates – not to mention the need to meet central government targets on releasing land for self build, starter homes on all reasonably sized sites, truly affordable housing and supporting infrastructure.
Regardless of the pressures the profession has been under, since 2013 it has at least delivered on numbers. The LGA’s recent report shows that planning permissions are now being granted at twice the rate of completions.
But even with this upward trajectory, planning is still seen as an obstacle to overcome rather than a positive and proactive guide to development. In reality, planning provides a tool to deliver on stakeholder ambition, whether that’s government’s, local authorities’, communities’ or businesses’, but like any tool, it needs capable people wielding it.
The fact is the profession has been experiencing a brain drain for some time now means that enough skilled professionals have left the sector to realise their ambitions elsewhere. For those who like to complain about planners, they may now need to find one first.
The fact that planners aren’t equipped with powerful enough tools to exercise a vision, not their own but a communities or authorities, is a detrimental factor for our built environment. It means not only that planners themselves are relegated to a figurative small corner of the debate and often to a small corner of their own local authority.
A planner’s role isn’t simply to grant permissions but to plan for a community, factoring in all its needs – which is not restricted to just homes for owner-occupiers but homes for everyone, commercial properties for businesses, green space for environmental needs and transport infrastructure.
Planners are fundamental to the process creating sustainable and vibrant places. We are not only undervaluing the long term benefits proactive planning can deliver, but also, by underresoourcing planning departments and not equipping them with the right tools, we are storing up greater problems for the future which councillors, planners, developers and communities will have to resolve.