It was fantastic to welcome the refreshed NLA Expert Panel on Planning, with many new faces around the table representing huge experience from the forefront of navigating the planning system across local authorities, developers, architects and specialist advisors.
Just as the first meeting of the Panel last year started with excitement around the planning reforms, this meeting came hot on the heels of the appointment of Michael Gove as Secretary of State and the name change to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The panel was near universal in welcoming such a heavyweight to the role, recognising Mr Gove has a strong track record of getting into the detail and of delivery, and a powerful influence across Government.
That was tampered with uncertainty as to what will happen next, and specifically what elements of the Planning White Paper will come forward as well as continued concern that the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda must not be at the expense of London. On the plus side, it was felt that the Government recognises the need to significantly speed up housebuilding, especially so in ‘growth areas’, and that in Michael Gove we have someone who could be able to carry elements of the Conservative Party with him.
We agreed to keep a close watching brief on the reforms that do emerge, and once they are published, we will once again seek the input of the NLA membership and prepare a formal response to any further consultation.
On other matters, we discussed the critical skills shortage which exists for planners – which is impacting both the private sector and public authorities – as well as urban design specialists which are in increasing need to support the focus on design coding and ‘Building Beautiful’. It was noted that planners is not on the list of recognised skills gaps to obtain foreign visas and that continued further cuts to local Government budgets are likely to make the situation still worse to come.
On design coding specifically, panellists shared their experiences to date, with quite a lot of different approaches being adopted given the flexibility that exists in the grey area between formal design codes and more general design guidelines. This is something we will continue to monitor.
The discussions also touched on the digitisation of the planning system; the need for continued community engagement in planning and not only at the plan making stage; and how the change from Jenrick to Gove could lead to improved political relations between the department and the GLA.