There‘s no doubt we need to reform our planning system. There are fundamental structural problems in the supply of commercial and affordable homes. However, relaxing planning to the degree advocated by Policy Exchange could be extremely damaging and misses the point about the significant challenges for land use in the UK.
More than housing
The report focuses almost entirely on the provision of housing and if this were the only consideration within the planning system some of the conclusions and recommendations would be valid. Indeed raising the prospect of new cities is interesting.
However, planning is about so much more. The report rightly highlights the role of planning in helping to understand and control the impacts of development. However it also describes the planning system as being driven by a socialist command and control approach and suggests that there should be much greater freedoms on land owners.
The bigger picture
In fact planning needs to address a much greater range of issues many of which are not of immediate interest to developers whose main audience is their shareholders. These include energy and food production, the careful management of our water and other natural resources, the availability of open spaces and the quality of our countryside, which itself drives huge economic benefits for the UK in terms of both tourism and creating attractive places for inward investment.
From sustainable development to stewardship?
It’s also interesting to reflect on how relatively unfettered ownership of land can fit with the concept of sustainable development. Sustainable development is about growth that does not compromise future generations. Should stewardship therefore be the new watch word?
An integrated approach
We need a planning system that doesn’t see business, government, community and society as opposing forces. We need to generate a new vision for planning where the needs of the environment, people and business are balanced and where there is agreement on what the most appropriate use of land is and how it can be stewarded for future generations.
Want to know more about our vision for planning? Read our Planning for People manifesto. You’ll see how we believe developers have an absolutely crucial role as stewards. They may not own land for very long but their actions fundamentally alter it and the surrounding area including the community.
New Garden Cities could be part of the solution to our country’s housing crisis, and there’s undoubtedly economic sense in large scale population centres. However, they need to be agreed through a democratic and balanced system rather than being led by developers with communities bribed to accept them.
Ian Wilson, National Trust Head of Government Affairs