Where have all the planners gone? Hannah Millman of SF Planning Ltd
By Hannah Millman, strategic planner at SF Planning Ltd
It has been hard to miss both the news and the impact of there being a huge number of employment vacancies at present across all sectors, resulting from a perfect storm of Brexit and actions taken during the pandemic.
Planning is no different, however, there was a skills gap in planning extending back before these national and global events. It is currently hard to visit the planning pages of a local authority without seeing a warning notice of delays being experienced in the validating and determination of applications.
For both individuals and those who work specifically in the development industry, this is frustrating. However, it has a deeper impact. The secretary of state for Levelling Up, housing and communities has recently reaffirmed the need to build 300,000 homes a year to meet housing needs.
Alongside that, is increased need in supporting infrastructure and employment opportunities, all of which require planning permission. Applications being delayed within the planning process will have a knock-on impact - it will leave people without a home of their own, businesses looking to expand without appropriate premises and school places required being left unmet.
There are a number of reasons for the skills shortage within planning. Public knowledge generally of the planning profession and how decisions are made is not as high as it should be. This is despite the fact that decisions made within planning can have an impact on the economy, the social wellbeing of society and the environment, including the capacity to fight and adapt to changes arising from climate change.
Another major issue facing local authorities which have the power to make these decisions is a funding gap - the cost of working to assess and determine a planning application for any scale of development is outweighed by the charge that can be levied for that service. This is compounded by the continuous cuts seen to local authority funding in general over the past decades. This then limits the ability of the local authorities to attract and retain trained planning professionals, especially when competing against the private sector for the same pool of available professionals.
I am not going to claim to have a magic answer that will make these woes disappear, however, there are tools that are available to both applicants and local authorities that can help ease the pressure. In the short term, these include the use of pre-application services, to help iron out issues prior to submission of an application, and the use of planning performance agreements where appropriate.
Steps are being taken by the Royal Town Planning Institute and other organisations to encourage more people into the profession.
There is also a case for raising the fee of planning applications to match the cost of determination, however better funding from Government would also help.
For more information on any aspect of the planning process, contact Hannah Millman at SF Planning Ltd on 01242 231575, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sfplanning.co.uk.
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