Royal Town Planning Institute planning convention 2013
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
This is a speech about planning measures helping to achieve economic growth.
In 1940 the planner Thomas Sharp penned a little book on town and country planning.
I have it here today.
In his final chapter, presciently entitled “Plan we must”, he writes: “Any future planning must be positive planning: not merely planning that restricts and controls, but planning that performs.”
Despite writing during the darkest depths of a world war, Sharp’s enthusiasm and optimism for planning on a human scale is palpable.
The truth is we haven’t had that sort of unified ambition in town and country planning for a very long time.
What we’ve had instead has been development control.
A mass of overlapping often conflicting policy and guidance.
That led to planning by precedence.
Planning by numbers.
A zombie system - creeping forward at the mercy of Whitehall’s walking dead.
We’ve all felt the results.
Left with bad feeling - between architects, designers, planners and residents.
Left with bad development - mums, dads, daughters, and grandmothers, crammed into rabbit hutches.
Not to mention house building on its knees, at the lowest peacetime rates since the 1920s.
The trouble was, instead of solving the situation, the last administration made it worse.
Regulating for regional spatial strategies;
Regional economic strategies;
Regional development agencies.
It led to planning paralysis.
It was a case of ‘you’ve been quangoed’.
At the general election, 6 years after the 2004 Planning Act, only 1 in 6 councils had adopted a core strategy, and only 1 in 4 councils had a 5-year land supply.
This situation couldn’t continue.
Planning is the unsung hero of economic growth.
It places the houses, the businesses, the infrastructure that makes everything else in life possible.
It is the magic ingredient that connects people, places and communities.
It guarantees the places we live and work in will be places we love many years from now.
Now I firmly believe planning should have more ambition.
That’s why we’ve liberated planning from the shackles of bureaucracy.
Streamlining the framework, so it can be more accessible to local people and goes beyond the realm of council officers, lawyers and NGOs.
But our reforms are doing something else just as substantial.
They are showing that growth and conservation are not mutually exclusive.
You can plan for growth but not at any price.
So we have been very clear that we must have secure safeguards to protect the green belt.
That vital green lung which prevents urban sprawl.
Sometimes I feel politicians in particular forget that it is there, not simply for the beautiful landscapes, but to keep conurbations from running into each other.
To protect the nature of what we call home.
And the protections are there too for our great natural heritage.
Our areas of outstanding natural beauty.
And other important environmental designations.
But we are also sending out a clear signal of our determination to harness the developed land we’ve got.
To make sure we are using every single square inch of underused brownfield land.
Every vacant home and every disused building.
Every stalled site revived.
We have already announced changes to permitted development.
Freeing up the rules.
So ambitious entrepreneurs can quickly set up pop-up shops, financial and professional services.
So growing families can extend their homes without needing to submit a planning application.
So concerned parents and community activists can turn purposeless places into state funded free schools.
But I will soon be announcing our intention to go even further.
Our consultation proposes to transform dormant out-of-date offices, empty shops and boarded up buildings into new homes.
Bringing back to life our town centres.
It will give rural communities new power to turn old barns and outhouses into new homes and businesses.
Boosting the rural economy whilst protecting the open countryside from development.
What’s crucial about our future plans and our existing reforms is that they have the interest of local people at heart.
They seek to make planning a locally led matter.
Local people more than anyone understand the way to strike a balance between protection and progress.
Look at tonight’s award winners.
The aptly named Heartlands in Cornwall have not just preserved Grade 2 listed mine buildings.
They have built a new community centre, with quarters for artists and creative industries as well as residential accommodation.
In Birmingham a community consultation rejuvenated the Kings Heath public square.
While in Gloucester a local spark has transformed the docks to ship in new investment.
These winners are vindicating our decision to anoint the local plan king.
Where one is properly drawn up, consulted on and adopted, it takes precedence over the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
And local plans are complemented by new neighbourhood plans, where local communities wish to adopt them.
I was particularly delighted to see Thame getting a deserved award.
The third neighbourhood plan to be voted on should shortly be accepted by the council and then be the first to allocate sites for development.
Through its extensive consultation local residents, businessesmen and landowners have agreed where to put 775 new homes.
If I can speak of the Thame team with a reference to the A-team: “We love it when a neighbourhood plan comes together”.
This is the future of planning.
And a further 550 plans are on the way.
Already we’re seeing a local, more co-operative, more positive approach paying off.
More than a year on from the framework…
…. local plans are gathering pace.
73% of councils now have published plans and the remainder are making real progress.
Nearly 9 in 10 planning applications are getting approved - a 10 year high - and testament to work of of the good folk here today.
There have been fewer planning appeals, meaning good decisions and more local decision-making.
And all of this has happened without the concrete mixers rolling anywhere near our protected English countryside.
But planners are the lynchpin of the system.
Those local plans won’t work without you.
So I’m looking to you to put the ‘town and country’ back into planning.
To work in concert with local authorities, builders, developers, architects.
Not just to weed out poor design, or even give the green light to locally agreed decisions, but to spot plans with promise and provide the vital support so they realise their latent potential.
Instead of those Grand Designs episodes where the door to the planners seems permanently glued shut, I want to watch the episode where the door stays open.
We’re giving you the opportunity to recapture the optimism of the past.
To turn local recent resentment into local pride.
To help protect our great countryside and create the well-designed developments of the future.
And to realise Thomas Sharp’s dream of that perfect town: “Planned for light and air and good living. Built for beauty as well as convenience. Fine sheer towns that will make their inhabitants proud to live in them.”