UK planning policy has lost its coherence

The BBC news website reports on findings from the Estates Gazette that UK planning permissions for large retail schemes are still favouring out-of-town areas as opposed to High Streets. An example is given of the Portas Pilot town of Margate, where it seems policy is pulling in two directions with a recent approval for an out-of-town Tesco store despite Portas’ work to reinvigorate Margate High Street. Another example is given of tension between ministers as shown in correspondence between them on possible developments on green field sites.

Has the planning system lost its way?

Essentially, it is meant to be a fair and just way of deciding between competing interests, without fear or favour. However, in recent years it has become seen predominantly as a system of entitlement for land owners to increase the value of their holdings (favour). Planning policy has been surrendered to become a fight between teams of expensive lawyers, and councillors are in danger of being intimidated by the costs of appeals and threats of damages (fear).

Planning policy has also become seen as essentially a local concern only, with national decisions restricted to major infrastructure decisions such as nuclear waste sites.

I suggest that we need our national decisions to decide on regional balances. For examples, promoting research and development sites north of Cambridge; promoting green fuel production in declining industrial areas; promoting existing airport usage not just in the South East; promoting public transport ahead of new roads even in corridors of congestion; and making consumer charging compulsory for car parking spaces in new out-of-town developments, then phased in for existing out-of-town schemes. Otherwise the Greater South East of England will continue to pull away from the rest of the UK.

Then, within this balanced national and regional framework, local planning committees can frame their decisions on particular developments. Additional local planning powers are also needed, such as limiting the number of arcades and betting shops, payday loan shops, and new powers to reconfigure High Streets to become fully functioning neighbourhood centres and not just retail centres.

National and regional planning policy needs to move on from 2010 and its knee jerk hatred of regional housing targets and regional development agencies.

Town centres ‘missing out on new retail development’ –

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