Underfunding of town planning could lead to mediocrity

Town planning is essential to avoid mediocrity and create sustainable communities

Town planning is essential to avoid mediocrity and create sustainable communities

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Ric Blenkharn, architect, Bramhall Blenkharn, www.brable.com

I was appalled to learn recently that my own local authority was losing the title of Town Planners in the restructuring of jobs, and with that the seeming demotion of a profession at the core of helping shape communities for the future.

As the Royal Town Planning Institute note: “Professional Town Planners help communities, companies and local and national politicians to make decisions about how to best use their space. Good planning protects coastlines and historic buildings, regenerates declining places and creates new environments. It preserves the best of the past and promotes innovation, so that the towns and buildings of the future will continue to meet our needs.”

The premise of town planning was established in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. The Act established that planning permission was required for land development; ownership alone no longer conferred the right to develop the land. To control this, the Act reorganised the planning system from the 1,400 existing planning authorities to 145 (formed from county and borough councils), and required them all to prepare a comprehensive development plan.

This development plan was then used as a blueprint for the future development of towns and cities, looking at infrastructure, housing, commerce, open space and the protection of important buildings. The Act was overhauled in 2012 by the National Planning Policy Framework, put in place to help achieve sustainable long-term development.

In the forward to the NPPF the then Minister for Planning Greg Clark MP noted: “Our standards of design can be so much higher. We are a nation renowned worldwide for creative excellence, yet, at home; confidence in development itself has been eroded by the too frequent experience of mediocrity. So sustainable development is about positive growth – making economic, environmental and social progress for this and future generations. The planning system is about helping to make this happen.

“Clearly to implement such an agenda, we need the skills and resources of professionals, working alongside the local community, to ensure we deliver this ideal. We need to understand that with a growing population, we need housing, employment opportunities, open space, schools, hospitals and infrastructure. All these facilities need to be planned effectively. We need to allocate space for development, we need to identify areas for regeneration, we need to promote awareness that good well-planned spaces, actually deliver a healthy society.”

These are all aspects that town planners consider in an unbiased manner and judged against current planning policies. It is vital that local authorities are adequately equipped to deliver this service.

The RTPI noted “in short, improvement requires investment – all things that are increasingly difficult to do in the context of year-on- year budget reductions, when the ‘easiest’ response is to cut more staff posts.”

I certainly believe that investment in the planning process, coupled to considerate design, is essential in the creation of sustainable communities. Spending time at the initial stage of aproject or a plan for a town or city is a prerequisite to achieve a viable long-term solution. There is a clear cost associated with such a level of service, but a cost, which I believe is essential.

I fear that underfunding our town planning structure will result in the “frequent experience of mediocrity”, the very aspect the NPPF was set up to challenge.

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