Should Councillors Be Stripped of Planning Powers?

A recent report by the think tank Policy Exchange suggests radical reforms are needed to make the planning system fit for purpose in the 21st Century, including the reduction of specific planning powers. The report found that local elected politicians should be given a reduced role in drawing up slimmed-down local plans, but that deciding individual applications should become a purely administrative task.

Policy Exchange’s report concluded that the basic principles of the planning system hadn’t changed since its establishment in 1947 and was now “wholly out of sync with the needs and desires of people, businesses and wider society.”

To tackle this, the report recommended that local authorities be stripped of their power to determine land use – such as residential, commercial or agricultural – on individual sites via local plans. Instead, it said authorities should simply designate land as available for development or not. Beyond that, local plans should confine themselves to drawing up prescriptive rules against which individual planning applications are judged – with the presumption that applications will be approved if they comply with those rules.

Policy Exchange said the implementation of the recommendations would allow the UK to meet housing need, while delivering beautiful places because developers will compete on quality of design.

“By eliminating uncertainty about the permitting process, development can become faster and cheaper. If the rules of the game are clear from the beginning, then builders will be able to deliver the housing England needs.”

 – Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard University – In a Foreword to the Report

The report said the current system was characterised by excessive planning restrictions which caused a redistribution of wealth and income from renters to homeowners and increased the cost of real estate. It added that the complexity and risk of the planning system diminished the country’s base of small and medium sized developers, with influence captured by the ‘noisy minority’ of anti-development interests.

The think tank suggested that designation of land for development should not be determined by any prediction of need, but instead be dependent on factors such as whether land has good access potential, what environmental disturbance its development would entail and an existing built development’s potential to expand.

grass on a beautiful day

We at Ethical Partnership support proposals to review and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the planning system – if such reforms will assist in delivering sustainable development and the consequential economic, social and environmental benefits that result from such development.

Controversial reforms such as removing the planning powers of local politicians in deciding major and/or controversial proposals could be seen as undemocratic, reducing opportunities for local people to address decision makers to seek to influence whether an application is approved or refused.

The report is certainly thought provoking and we would be interested to learn the thoughts of others on the suggested reforms.

If you need assistance in navigating the current planning system, please get in touch and our expert team will be glad to help.