In his introduction to the recent Policy Exchange publication “Planning Anew“, the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP has stated that the government will “focus on creating beautiful, environmentally friendly places”. This reference to beauty appears to be another indication that at least some of the recommendations set out in the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s final report, Living with Beauty, published in January, will find their way into the promised Planning White Paper.
Fast track and design codes
One proposal where the government has previously expressed interest is the idea of a planning “fast track” to allow quicker planning decisions to be made based upon compliance with site-specific design policies, effectively front-loading decision making to allow individual applications to proceed more quickly.
The theme of local design codes are the subject of John Myer’s paper “Better incentives: Finding mutual benefit in local communities” who says that they could represent a better control over development than current policy frameworks. However, the paper argues that this benefit will only be realised if the chosen design code is decided by small groups of people to apply to specific areas.
Therefore, it is suggested that controls such as design codes should be introduced alongside a democratisation of decision making. In order to “ensure beautiful outcomes”, small communities (the size of an individual street or block) should be empowered to vote on the planning controls which will apply to their own land. Self-interest will then encourage a loosening of restrictions on development acceptable to the community whilst also strengthening the likelihood that only high-quality development will be permitted.
Democratisation and empowerment of local communities to engage in planning is also a focus of in other papers. This is not necessarily surprising or novel. As Lisa Bazalo set out in her recent blog on Delivering deliberative democracy, this is a wider issue currently being explored in other contexts. However, whilst street-by-street design standards and policies would certainly assist in creating the “locally distinctive sense of place” which the BBBBC Report has recommended, it is unclear how such an individualistic approach can interact with the wider concerns of infrastructure and placemaking.
The BBBBC report’s call to encourage strategic and proactive placemaking which is sustainable in the long-term does not necessarily sit comfortably with piecemeal design policies based upon the views of landowners in particular streets at the time when the vote takes place. Free-market decision making has not always been championed as an effective control on long-term communal interests. BBBBC’s recommendations that planning frameworks need to be supported and local authorities provided with better funding for resources do not feature in Policy Exchange’s reform agenda.
Perhaps increased funding to support planning officers to make decisions would be ineffective and a free-market approach is needed. Perhaps expertise has just become politically unfashionable. We will need to wait for the government’s response to BBBBC’s recommendations and the promised Planning White Paper to find out.
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