You don’t have to have worked in every area of local government to acknowledge that planning is a funny beast.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about planning online recently. In particular, I’ve been thinking through how to ‘expose’ the rulebase of the GPDO to normal people, to let them see whether or not they need a permission for their development. I was chatting to a friend who works in the social sector. He’s been working on a project e’ifying some aspects of social work, including putting some of the initial filter forms online. These are the questions that establish whether someone is entitled to the support of the local authority: how alone / ill / poor are you really ?
The project went well. The forms went up, and people began to go through the self-referral process. But then something strange happened. The output of this process is a yes/no answer based on the questions. People who received a ‘no’ went back into the form and made themselves more alone / ill / poor until they received a ‘yes’. They then remembered these answers and gave them to the social worker who was subsequently dispatched.
“Aren’t I lucky”, was my initial thought. It is completely OK to set out a clear method for people to avoid the planning system. After all, we’re selling something that people don’t actually want to buy. Imagine a situation where you want to extend your home; who wouldn’t like a bigger kitchen ? You draw up some rough plans … perhaps that big … we’ll go as far as the edge of the existing patio. Then, you play with the planning rules. You realise that by reducing it slightly, or moving it to one side, you avoid the cost / delay / heartache of the planning system. Hooray.
Of course, on a macro level this is what the government is trying to achieve. The Householder Development Consent Review does what it says on the tin: it is trying to remove many small-scale developments from the planning system, allowing it to concentrate on the big stuff.
However I found myself mildly concerned about lots of developments going under the radar. Where else can you get advice on good design, sustainability and contributing to a wider street scene for about a hundred quid ? A good development control management service adds value, and it’s the sort of multi-disciplinary and impartial value that is extremely difficult to replace.
As a planning service, I guess there are two types of response to the HDCR. The approach I’d thought was inevitable was a sigh of relief at the reduction in ‘boring’ applications, and a refocussing on the more interesting ones (we’ll ignore the nailbiting wait to understand how the balance of bigger fees / fewer applications plays out).
An alternative approach is to make a new type of advice service available. Some authorities have been kicking around a ‘one-stop-shop’ idea for years, and this is a great opportunity to try it if you haven’t already. It’s a bit like the planning process, but the output is a hundred quid’s worth of advice about your development. You are free to ignore it. The whole thing feels less like like going to the dentist now, and instead you can pick experts brains, argue, and have a relationship between adults. It’s liberating what a removal of the “no” stick can do. This second option is the only response if planners believe they really are special, and do indeed add value. Is the advice produced by your householder team worth the money?