We all lose in a combative planning system

In response to a tweet about a developer ‘winning’ a planning application last night, Graham Stallwood, current Chair of the RTPI Board, commented on Twitter this morning that “The planning system exists for public good not 'winners' and 'losers'. Permissions are granted not "won" to me”.  Which got me thinking (and tweeting) about the combative nature of the UK planning process.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that we have only two options when faced with commenting on a planning application: to support or object.  There are very few areas in life which are black and white, and it seems strange that we have a planning system which invites the public to take a black or white view on an incredibly complex subject.

Furthermore, not only does this pitch “supporters” against “objectors”, rather like opposing sides of a football match, it also weights the system in favour of objectors. On behalf of clients I’ve often had to read through hundreds of public comments on an application, and many of them will say something like “I don’t mind the application in principle but I’m worried about X junction, or Y tree” and that is immediately logged by officers as an ‘objection’.

In an era of localism, with local communities being encouraged to take more of a role in planning issues, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could acknowledge that just as the architecture, planning or archaeological merits of a site might be partly about judgement, or based on finely balanced decisions, so too are the views of the public?

A system where you could simply just give your views on a scheme without being classified as a ‘supporter’ or ‘objector’ and then have those views analysed by officers in the same way they do for other disciplines, would be much less combative. Furthermore, if it meant members could weigh upthe various different aspects of the community’s response, rather than just considering a tally of support versus objection, it would arguably result in much better outcomes for developers and communities alike.

This article was written by Anna Sabine-Newlyn, CEO of MPC.