I have been involved in planning for most of my working life. I wrote “Open Source Planning”, which helped to guide the reforms of 2010 and 2011; I helped to draft the national planning policy framework; I sat on the local expert planning group, which sought to simplify planning; and most recently I have been the Government champion for neighbourhood planning.
My conclusion from all of that is that the plan-led system we now have is so complex, with so many layers and so many tweaks, that it is no longer fit for purpose, particularly in relation to the delivery of housing. The plan-led system is
“less effective than at any time in the post-war era”.
Those are not my words but the words of Nick Raynsford, whose report on this I found very interesting.
Affordable housing is falling by the wayside. Its quality is highly dubious, and there is a loss of public trust in planning as the most fundamental aspect of this approach. A fundamental reform is required, and I am happy to remove the party political influence of councillors from individual applications, because I am keen to ensure that neighbourhood plans play a much greater role in keeping the involvement of local people in the planning system.
However, there is one more important reform that we should bring in: the use of mediation in the planning system, instead of a costly appeals mechanism. In 2008, the Killian Pretty review said that an alternative dispute resolution—meaning mediation—should be used as a speedy alternative to appeals. The essence of mediation, of course, is that the mediator decides nothing. The process is facilitative and allows the parties to the case to formulate their own solutions under guidance. It can be used for highways, compulsory purchase, sorting out claims however they arrive, and sorting out the thorny issues of section 106 agreements. There is a role for mediation at the beginning of the process in generating the scope of a project and ensuring that local views or needs are included.
Why should mediation even be considered? First, it has been an outstanding success in other areas, including the construction industry, where it is used effectively, but also in other areas of life. The essence of that should be used in the planning system to speed up reform.