The first meeting of the NLA Expert Panel on Planning
this week brought together a fascinating mix of expertise of the UK planning system, made up of senior developers, architects, local authority planners, planning consultants, lawyers, those developing new technologies for consultation and those at the sharp end of talking with communities about development proposals.
Even with such a diverse set of experiences and viewpoints, the Panel quickly identified three main areas of focus:
1. The impact of the Government’s proposed ‘radical’ changes to the planning system on London;
2. How to promote trust in planning and development, embracing new technologies and engaging Londoners; and
3. What further change or flexibility is needed to best aid London’s recovery from COVID19, whilst still protecting design quality.
On the first of these, Lisa Webb from Gerald Eve presented a summary of the planning changes announced or implemented so far, such as the extension of Permitted Development rights and construction working hours. The Panel also discussed the likely direction of travel in the Government’s consultation paper expected later this month, which they have announced will herald “the most radical shake up of the planning system since WWII”. Having been heavily informed by the Policy Exchange Report, directions of travel are likely to include fasting track applications for high quality schemes, zoning, greater use of development corporations, and streamlining engagement of local politicians in the planning process.
The first key theme therefore was thinking around how relevant these changes might be to London, as opposed to elsewhere, and in particular how zoning might work in practice and the impacts of further permitted development rights. The group was keen to ensure that the flexibility of the current planning system wasn’t replaced by a rigid set of rules, and there was a widespread concern about the possible impact on design quality. With further removal of density guidance from the London Plan, the Panel also commented on the risk that we enhancing the ‘race for numbers’ and that a stronger vision on the distinct character of areas of London is needed to ensure we don’t what makes London special.
On the issue of building trust in development, the Panel agreed that the focus needed to be on changing the tone and content of the way we talk about planning, focusing on the quality of the conversation with local communities, and empowering them to engage in longer term strategic plans. We need to get young people involved in the conversation and use this opportunity of people being so acutely aware of their environment to change the way we excite people about development. The Panel also discussed how to speed up the adoption of new technologies and how to reach out beyond those traditionally engaged with planning by looking at the barriers to engagement. There are many positive consultation exercises taking place in London that we should collate and share, both from local authorities consulting on development plans and the private sector when consulting on specific proposals.
Finally, on aiding London’s recovery from COVID19, the Panel discussed what changes through lockdown we want to embrace as London recovers, to consider which should be embraced as permanent improvements to quality of life that need to be considered through urban design. How COVID19 might impact residential design guidance and space standards is a key issue planners and designers will need to address. The Panel also touched on the specific issue of town centres and how local authorities and others can quickly respond to the likelihood of further vacancies.