The new planning system

[This article was originally published in Planning Magazine, September 2007]

Through the spatial planning system and the place shaping agenda, planning has been given the tools to help communities achieve their ambitions.

Planners working in partnership with members as community leaders, and local partnerships, are integral to taking these tools and using them to deliver real and lasting change for the communities they serve. No one ever said that this changing role for planners would be easy to achieve. However, the knowledge and skills needed to do this are a vital part of a planner’s training. There is a need for all planners to understand what is meant by spatial planning and place shaping; how this affects the roles of members and officers; and what we all need to do differently to make the change.
From the work we do with those working on spatial planning in councils throughout England, I worry that some of the key messages about the new system have not been heard, or are not being understood.

The basics are:
• This is a different system – do not do what you used to do – it will not work.
• You must work in partnership, internally and externally – to share the load, to work spatially and the deliver the best results for your communities.
• Plans should be shaped by evidence, by all who are interested in the locality and its future and embed the use of sustainability appraisal from the beginning.
• Locally distinctive does not mean each council is different, the evidence will tell you what the issues are for your council – what your place is like.
• You will find issues are spatial and so cross administrative boundaries – work together.
• You do not have the skills to do all this – talk to others internally and externally.
• Delivery means working those who will do the delivering – the development industry and infrastructure providers need to be in from the beginning.

The rewards, both for your local communities and for you personally in grasping the spatial nettle are great; the opportunity is yours for the taking. Good luck.

To find out more about how the services offered by PAS can help, visit


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