Anticipating possible outcomes for the Election is a popular pre-occupation just now, but what material changes might this yield in the planning world? A ‘no change’ scenario is the most likely outcome of a hung parliament (more likely now after good performances by Nick Clegg in the Leaders’ debate?) as energy expended to achieve change, is replaced by energy devoted to in-fighting. A second scenario dependent on a Conservative win might be one of significant reform, and implementation of their Open Source planning proposals. Localism in terms of policy and decision making is the new agenda here, with communities and authorities offered greater freedom to produce local policies and plans free from national and regional targets. Local democracy or a free for all?
Whilst aspects of the Localism proposals appear sensible (perhaps accompanied by some grudging Labour acknowledgement that the Tories stole the agenda here), some proposals will strike fear not only into local authorities but possibly even developers. The fundamental impact being root and branch transformation of the planning system, with the abolition of the regional tier just at the point when we’re getting used to it and hoping it might deliver some more rational decision-making than previous regimes. Throwing out the RSS/LDF system now would be highly wasteful of the costs of generating it, with the crucial measure of better delivery at the local level having received insufficient time to ‘bed in’. Whilst the current LDF system is time consuming, process driven and evidence ravenous, it is doubtful that change now will bring greater certainty in the short term for the convalescing development industry. It may be a case of now we have got it, let’s use it for a time despite all its imperfections.
Irrespective of who wins, a vital role remains for planners in both public and private sectors, to provide guidance and leadership in developing policies and strategies against which development decisions are ultimately determined. The need to undertake advocacy, capacity building and problem solving with communities, to support appropriate development and regeneration will remain. If the Conservatives implement their proposals, honest and open engagement achieved with community based planning skills will come centre stage, but this only raises the stakes for communities to be fully ‘signed up’ to development schemes. Not a time then for the profession to lose heart, but to understand the value of core planning skills which will be required whatever the political outcome.