Will the next government deliver on planning pledges?

Planning challenges remain some of the biggest hurdles to development in the UK.
July 2, 2024
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Planning challenges remain some of the biggest hurdles to development in the UK.

Just this week, Dave Ricks, chief executive of the obesity drug manufacturer Eli Lilly, has highlighted the negative impact that the UK planning system has on inward investment in the UK.

He warned that the current planning processes in the UK were an “impediment” to building factories at speed, unlike in the US and Ireland and chose to build a factory in another country altogether as a result.

With a General Election just days away and promises from both the Conservatives and Labour on planning, it remains to be seen what will happen to deal with the significant challenges faced in the UK planning system – from lack of resource in local planning authorities to housing and placemaking.

The Conservatives have pledged to build 1.6 million homes as part of their manifesto, but this will be questionable without new policies to improve the planning system. Meanwhile, Labour is promising a similar boost to housebuilding, but with it, a blitz of UK planning reform.

But what does the professional body representing planners in the UK – the RTPI – want to see?

Planning expert, James Williams, explores the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) “Planifesto 2024.”

The Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Planifesto emphasises the critical role of planning in enabling a sustainable, equitable, and economically resilient future which will be key to catalysing change and championing development. They want to see the new Government address five core areas which span everything from funding and clarity to empowerment and climate commitments.

Specifically, they are calling for Government to:

  • Fund councils to deliver high quality planning services
  • Explain where manifesto promises will be delivered
  • Strengthen local plans to empower communities
  • Work with local leaders to avoid piecemeal development
  • Plan for net zero

At the heart of each of these is an overall desire for those in power to deliver on the following needs which the RTPI has identified as being integral to the future.

  • Improve our quality of life and quality of places
  • Promote sufficient, safe and sustainable homes
  • Give places and their leaders the tools to grow
  • Make what we have go further
  • Unleash planning’s full potential

Whichever political party prevails this week, it will be vitally important that they address the challenges that the UK faces – from housing and placemaking to development and delivery hurdles.

James Williams, Associate, Planning, Vail Williams LLP.
Headshot photo of James Williams

Find funding, fast

One of the main challenges highlighted by the RTPI’s “Planifesto” is that of funding – or the lack thereof. Local councils must have adequate finding to ensure they can provide the high-quality planning services that the RTPI is calling for more of.

Timely development delivery

For too long now, local councils have suffered the consequences of tightened Treasury purse strings.

Proper funding is vital for development delivery and securing the numerous benefits of development within an efficient and acceptable timescale.

The consistent debate around delays to planning, including at the plan making stage, are inevitably linked back to a lack of resources and funding, so this element of the Planifesto is considered fundamental for any future Government.

However, given the current challenges facing local authorities, the idea that Councils will “play a master developer role for assembling and supplying land”, including providing infrastructure, seems ambitious.

This would create further demands on resource at a local level and will require additional expertise within local planning authorities which are already on their knees.

Collaboration on housing need

The RTPI’s reference to the housing crisis within the Planifesto and the associated impact on the economy and local communities, is welcomed and supported.

The wider benefits of “new homes of the right types in the right places” would bring immeasurable wider benefits, but the difficulty has always been identifying (and agreeing where is the “right place”?

Politically, this will require strong leadership to deliver the housing required and a collaborative approach through plan making, working with key stakeholders to deliver what is needed.

Plan for net zero

The plan for net zero, and reference to broader sustainability throughout the Planifesto, is welcomed and encouraged, particularly amid news that 63% of the roughly 4,000 applications submitted for wind, solar and battery projects between 2018 and 2023 have been refused or abandoned.

Inclusion of renewable energy and technology, energy efficiency, biodiversity and habitat, along with brownfield remediation in the RTPI’s Planifesto, demonstrates the importance of sustainability that is all-encompassing.

This needs to be backed by longer term political commitments, not just short term reactions to an Election, to ensure these benefits are secured for local communities and future generations.

The Planifesto addresses a range of overarching topics and is just a starting point which will further the debate around the role of planning at a national level.

The extent to which the new Government heeds the RTPI’s Planifesto is yet to be seen and will need to evolve and be balanced with the wider priorities of the Government.

It will be interesting to see how this debate evolves post-Election, and what happens in the first 100 days of Government to address some of the RTPI’s calls for action.

Core to the success of any changes brought to the planning system will be continued engagement at all levels, as well as the promotion of the important role that planning plays within society.

Together with a good variety of planning and development changes, clear definitions of roles and responsibilities, this will help to generate actionable steps and timelines and will lead to tangible improvements for our communities in the future.