The Jigsaw Puzzle

I have been to a couple of different seminars and workshops lately on the subject of -not surprisingly – spatial planning. Following these seminars I have been contemplating spatial planning in the real world……

  I think like many the jigsaw puzzle of the ‘new’ spatial planning system, as kicked off by the 2004 Act, has taken some time to piece together –  only getting the whole picture when you take into account other guidance and legislation that has come along after the Act. Those that have created this, and some policy wonks, don’t see why it is all so difficult. Maybe they are able to step back and see the whole jigsaw picture. They no doubt put all the pieces together years ago. Although, in my view, this would have been tricky as lots of the pieces were still stuck inside the box.

 How was it for you? – In the thick of it – in development control- you were looking at how to “process” the mountain of applications in 8 or 13 weeks. You looked at the regs (and have tried to understand them) that were relevant to the delivery and actions YOU needed to take to ensure legally robust decisions and good quality development, inside the target time. In Policy it has been – do we have the evidence? How can we get people to respond to our letters? How much consultation, sorry engagement, do we have to do?  We can’t risk spending all that money on the examination to discover we didn’t have the length or depth of evidence on “x”. And your challenges have been  –  How can we get Policy to write some decent policies that give clear direction – and – How can we get Development Control to stop banging on about keeping their control policies –   Enough of this – you know what it ‘was‘ like.

 But now with the whole jigsaw picture is being revealed in front of you and everything is fine, and everyone understands and embraces a spatial planning world……

At one of the authorities I visited recently they seemed to have it all – they had an adopted core strategy, Sustainable Communities Strategy, Local Area Agreement  targets, corporate plan objectives all of which are aligned – fantastic? Well yes, it should be but it wasn’t that straight forward – what about delivering these strategies and objectives, who was responsible for that? Who owned the core strategy? – The planners? The council’s management team? all the members?, the planning committee?,  the Local Strategic Partnership?,  the community?  All of the above – well no. One of their biggest issues was that the core strategy was owned by the policy planners. The Development Control (Management) planners did not know what was expected of them, they didn’t feel that they knew how to implement the core strategy. The corporate team and managers from other services thought that this was something for planners and the Planning Committee to get on with and nothing to do with them.

The Lyons reports (2006/07) when setting out the ‘Place Shaping’ agenda had different ideas. Who does place shaping – all local authority services and other public sector bodies ‘working together’ -‘seeking improved outcomes for places Planners working with other services and local strategic partnerships have a key role to play in place shaping. Planning needs to be in the centre of this. ‘What is place shaping? When you compare definitions of place shaping and spatial planning they are remarkably similar:

“Spatial planning goes beyond traditional land use planning to bring together and integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function   – PPS1


What is the point of creating a strategy if it is not used in a way that will realise the vision and result in outcomes that the community have said that they need and want  – so the next step is delivery.   

Development Management is about: putting spatial planning into action –

managing the process from the first encounter to the development being on the ground and in some cases beyond. – It is about managing outcomes.

Development Management rather than development control seeks to implement the relevant strategies to achieve the desired outcomes.

Now that takes me to another seminar I was at were one of the speakers suggested that Development management was not really a culture change it was really just tweaking Development Control. I beg to differ- I did say to the speaker afterwards that I disagreed with his view. I think he was worried that if he said it was a culture change that he would scare the audience of planners. It is a culture change – but not a scary change – those authorities that have grasped Development Management have found that they have improved the profile of planning inside the authority and with partners; they have enriched the work of the planning officers and improved the outcomes for their communities.

As LPA planners: do you enjoy being the last one to know when the council is promoting a development on your patch?, do you enjoy being the planners that just say no and stand in the way of other services serving the community? No but… it isn’t our fault that they don’t talk to us.

Having thought about it, I have been extremely frustrated over the years about the planners being the last to know what is being proposed. We need to work out how to put ourselves at the centre of the place shaping agenda. We need to get out there and persuade them to talk to us – public services, and developers, need to be building ‘planning’ into their project plans not just in one 8 week chunk but in numerous places but mostly at the earliest possible opportunities, preferably when an idea first comes up and  at early preparation stage. Waiting for pre application, just before the submission of an application, is really too late.    Planners need to welcome the early engagement and be prepared to talk about principles. We need to assess whether proposals achieve the vision – not whether they stick to the rules. It will require planners to go out to the other services and change the practices of those services. It will require planners to convince the management team that they can help to achieve the corporate objectives.

You need to ask yourself did you enter planning to enforce rules or did you enter it to improve the environment and lives of people.  This is a culture change,   away from measuring against a rule to measuring against a vision and a desired outcome for the community.

The spatial planning system, with the other changes in the public sector landscape over the last few years, allows planners an opportunity to positively contribute to achieving desired community outcomes and make more effective use of public money, helping to match-make services that can benefit from co location and synergies. With the Development Management National policy statement – the jigsaw will be complete

To return to the authority I mentioned earlier that appeared to have all the pieces in place –

The authority realised how well they had done in terms of aligning their strategies and objectives and the importance of leading the place making agenda. They have held a workshop where all services worked together to demonstrate the similarity of objectives and the benefits of collaborating, the planning function has been restructured and the policy team and development managers are now working together, and they have set up liaison arrangements with all the services. They saw the importance of all services engaging early with planning, and promoting the need for other partners in the public and the private sector to engage very early with planning to achieve the best outcomes for the community. They recognised the likely spin off benefits as being improvements in efficiency, protecting reputation, and potential synergies between services thereby creating better outcomes for the community.

So that is how the jigsaw fits together –we are all seeking to achieve community objectives and to do this we need to communicate with others. These community objectives should be in the SCS, reflected in the LAA targets, given spatial form in the LDF and ideally be the aim of the corporate objectives delivered through services and development management. The outcomes will be performance managed through Comprehensive Area Assessment. It might depend on what service you belong to which document you will be drawn to first – but they are all relevant to what planners seeks to achieve –  you are part of the jigsaw not all of it.

Now for the puzzleball….


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