Neither big nor clever

Your Local Development Scheme. A pain? A millstone? An enigma wrapped inside a tissue of lies? It doesn’t have to be any of those things. All you have to do is get a page on your website which puts the formal stages up and, usefully, any forthcoming consultations. Then, set out when you’re planning to meet them and….that’s it. Yes, really!

If you have to change it, just alter it and show how it has changed. You could even try seasons for things in later stages.

So why is it that so many authorities keep republishing 10, 20 or 30 plus pages? They lovingly describe the heartbreaking lack of progress to date, the endless consult-a-go-rounds that have happened since 2010. They highlight that wonderful period from 2011 to 2015 when you were ‘going through the representations’ before returning to a ‘further additional extra this time I know it’s for real’ preferred options (with time allowed for further modifications). There are pages and pages about documents already adopted and usually lots of legal gumph about prescribed periods and out of date regulation numbers.

So, that’s the LDS. Make it a ‘one-page web-page next-bus-style announcement using seasons not months’.

But how do you know you’re getting close to getting that assessment of time right? What lies beneath? How will you make sure you meet those milestones so that when DCLG come calling you can tell them….that everything is on track, thank you for the interest.

At PAS, we have been looking at the main reasons where slippage has occurred. Whilst there is a chance that in some cases, it would have been almost impossible to avoid, it is almost always possible to see it coming.

So, to give you every chance of planning ahead, setting and agreeing a timetable that can withstand the forces of evil that seek to derail, we have come up with….a sort of a table and a chart and some words.

It isn’t big, just like your LDS shouldn’t be, and it isn’t particularly clever, just like the person who wrote it. It’s just something for you to be able to refer to, to take a breath and just scan the horizon. Take stock of what you have, assess what you need, and understand who to involve and when.

It’s available to all our subscribers, and open for comments from you to suggest improvements. Many thanks to the people who helped us to make it by contributing their thoughts and coming along to the event.


Getting It Together

When was the last time you sat in a room with your colleagues in Education, Highways, and Estates? Did you have the Director in the room too?

I helped run a session yesterday in Darlington. It struck me that this is something that all councils should make time to do. We hear too often about a ‘disconnect’ between the assumed priorities for different council services. This is not an issue purely for two-tier councils, although the physical separation of colleagues can make this more difficult.

But ask yourselves, is it better to be firing off emails and letters to colleagues, with a seemingly endless and often circular paper trail, or is it easier to set aside a whole day to discuss the big picture?

Darlington does not strike me as a place where relationships are difficult. The mood in the room was positive throughout. The contributions from all colleagues were insightful and asked just the right sorts of questions. As the discussion moved from the scale of housing need to potential location, all kinds of joining up was happening. There was instant feedback on potential issues, but also solutions, to many sites. You know the sort of conversation which, if in email form, would probably have taken weeks or months to have.

We then had a quick session on the key question that many people miss out on, as they chase processes. “What does success look like?” Whilst there were obviously some rather specific answers relating to each service area, it was clear there were some key themes that came up for everyone. What came out in particular was the theme of ‘making good places’. Place making, or place shaping as a term has fallen out of vogue, but if that’s not what we’re all planning to achieve, what are we planning for?

So if you do have regular get-togethers, then your plan, and the delivery of council services, is going to already be in pretty good shape. If not, what’s stopping you? If you’d like PAS to help facilitate or feed into the organisation of the day, just get in touch.

Taking housing out of electioneering

Even if we weren’t in the run up to an election (aren’t we always?) the tricky on-going issue of housing is never far away. It certainly is a potential seat winner/loser and boy do most councillor’s know it.

It appears that some people still view meeting the basic needs of human beings – such as housing – as something other-worldly. For us Planning Officers it can be troublesome to meet the requirements of some councillors and the pressure placed upon them by some resident groups. We are often asked to go round one more time to see if we can make the numbers even smaller to seemingly match the needs of the (often angry) protesters; ignoring the requirements of the silent majority. It may be a few thousand, but it will still be a small proportion of the population of the authority area.

So what can we, the humble planners, do? Firstly, I think we need to get residents to realise that no matter who you vote for, more houses are coming your way. Of course, this could be expensive, but it would be wonderful if every council put out some information, aimed at taking the debate about housing numbers off the election table. To send the evidence, in a very short message, to everyone.

I’m not talking about the possibility of converting NIMBYists into yay sayers, but if everyone who stands for election had to acknowledge the housing facts, then that would be one huge obstacle out of the way when it comes to making decisions on the plan. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of an argument, so let’s get rid of it. If you can’t promise that there will be no more housing, then you can’t be elected to ‘deliver’ no more housing.

How realistic is it to promise to stop housing in an area? And why should stopping it be seen as a good thing anyway? This is a huge topic, so come and debate with me, and more importantly, have your genuine concerns about OAN and the 5-year land supply discussed in a friendly open forum, at one of the forthcoming PAS events.

11 September – London
17 September – Birmingham
23 September – Leeds
25 September – Bristol
2 October – Manchester

For more info and to book, visit the PAS website (

Use the right number and count the right things

I read with interest the article in Planning ‘Call for supply method clarity’. Well, there is good and bad news, folks. Good news: the principles are pretty simple and can be applied anywhere. Bad news: you can’t nail down and clarify every issue. Different places will insist on behaving in different ways. It’s all so unreasonable.

We recently held some events on objectively assessed need and 5-year land supply. The materials are on our website and we’re following this up with further materials shortly. We’ve also published a Q&A on plan-making, covering queries received at PAS HQ over the last 12 months or so and how we’ve responded.

The Planning Practice Guidance is now fully out and does offer some useful advice on a number of issues. The section on ‘Housing and economic land availability assessment’ says everything government is going to say on this issue. I think it’s really useful. If you expected i’s to be crossed and t’s to be dotted, you had false expectations, and you’ll be disappointed. It won’t stop calls for more clarity.

So, as a trailer to the forthcoming PAS advice, I suggest these key principles:

  1.  Use the right number. This is NOT the RSS figure. If you are still using this – you shouldn’t. It bears as much relevance to planning for your housing needs as an episode of EastEnders.
  2.  Count the right things.  Large urban extensions, sites in multiple ownership, contaminated or otherwise complicated land? These are all going to take years to get sorted, so it is highly unlikely they can contribute to your 5-year supply at this time. At the very least, have a mature and regular dialogue with your developers. Is there lots of pre-build site preparation going on or is the site hidden behind rotting hoardings with no recent activity? (Consider the first, not the second.) The signals are there and won’t take too much time or cost too much money to monitor.

Planning may sometimes be complicated, difficult and even trying. But this isn’t one of those times. Let’s not go looking for trouble.

“Framework Phooey”

When the NPPF was launched way back in March 2012, I was asked if I would play the role of ‘Rosemary the telephone operator’ and don a headset to answer some queries  (for anyone unfamiliar with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon canon,  Rosemary  is from the 70’s classic  ‘Hong Kong Phooey’). Naturally, I accepted.

As far as I am aware there’s not previously been a help-line set up to deal with queries on a new Government policy document. The intention was clear. Anticipate the cries of  ‘what does this all mean’ and provide instant access to information through dialogue – not through a sheet of answers to questions no-one was asking anyway. Continue reading

Old dog, same tricks

PAS is supporting authorities in getting their plans in place. I have spoken to over 100 authorities over the past few months. So what? Well, one key phrase I’m hearing is “of course we have had to stop work on the core strategy to see how we can turn it into a local plan”. The following is not a criticism of any of those authorities, but I want to just throw this out here:

Your core strategy IS your local plan.

A local plan is not a Continue reading

Face Value

I spent nearly 8 hours in transit yesterday. I had a 40 minute meeting in the middle. It was worth every second. Why? As part of our direct support here at PAS, we aim to speak to more councils directly. Face to face contact is really important. I found out that Richmondshire is getting on with things. There are 1.5 fte staff working on the LDF. They used clever marketing and communications. They upped the number of consultation responses from 100 to 1,600. 

There may well be things we can help them with. We will carry out one of our diagnostic visits. I feel certain this will uncover a lot of good practice. Local authorities need skills. More importantly, I feel, they need confidence. Through our direct support, we can uncover good work already going on. Many authorities seem to shrug off the work they do as ‘the day job’. This may well be true. But just because one person thinks something is obvious, it doesn’t mean everyone will. It is our job to help share this knowledge. It is our job to get out there and see it first hand.

I look forward to my next journey.

The Winds of Change

I have been attending a number of meetings, and receiving a number of enquiries from local authority planners, where people are still mentioning that they are working on a ‘draft submission document’, or that they have reached ‘draft submission stage’. Whilst I appreciate that the wonderful cozy old world of ‘multiple drafts’ was incredibly safe and easy, I think it is important to realize we have moved on. Continue reading

Let’s get down to fundamentals

I was asked to speak at the LGC ‘Fundamentals of Planning’ conference last month, and it got me thinking about the really fundamental issues affecting us planners, as we continue with the (no longer) ‘new’ system. I will be honest with you, I am not normally one of the people to say ‘every problem is an opportunity’, but in this case, I really believe it is. I was fortunate enough to work for CLG at the time the revisions were being worked on, so I was able to work with the drivers for change, rather than rail against them. Continue reading