The Planning profession is an ever changing beast. Always under review and alteration. Constantly vilified for being too slow, too fast, too restrictive, not restrictive enough, too bureaucratic, too full of NIMBY’s, and so the list goes on….. In the midst of all the competing views of Planning as both a process and a profession, we’ve decided to use 2021 as a year to stand up for the promotion of ‘Positive Purposeful Planning’. To spread some love and try to provide a better understanding of the people that work within what really is a multifaceted and interesting profession.  

When did it all start? 

At its most fundamental level, Planning is all about managing and balancing the evolution of the places and spaces that we live in. Planning has its origins in C19th public health and housing. All development was brought under planning control through the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, which repealed all the various bits of incremental legislation that had gone before starting with the 1909 Housing and Town Planning Act. This effectively started the ball rolling for Planning as a technical process, an industry and a profession rooted in collaborative social and economic activity. It hasn’t really been around that long and so continues to evolve subject to politics and ideology. 

Planning … ?

Planning works to develop a resilience and equilibrium between a whole range of interests. It seeks to reconcile existing and new development, infrastructure and open space, nature and heritage, ecological and climate change and the financial drivers of the wider economy, and endeavours to create communities and places where people can thrive, not just survive.

As a regulatory process, it has given us development control and management tools, heritage protection, Green Belts, National Parks, AONBs, major infrastructure, new towns, sources of energy, seats of learning, places for leisure and meccas for retail consumerism and consumption, to name but a few outcomes. Yes it can be bureaucratic, complex and difficult to understand at times, it’s also technically challenging and no outcome can be guaranteed. But it’s probably one of the most transformative democratically transparent professions in terms of public involvement – when it works well – although we do acknowledge that the system isn’t as beneficial, equal, diverse and accessible as it should be. 

As a profession, it has created as much division and devastation as it has created cohesion and beauty. We can all think of places that have been destroyed through bad planning and decision making as well as places that have been protected and great buildings and places created. But we completely agree with Dr Wei Yang, the current President of the RTPI, that Planning is, at its heart, a profession of compassion, creativity and selflessness.

The world is changing, the way we work together to develop places and spaces is having to adapt both for real world and existential reasons. We have to think more about what we are doing and why, in more intuitive and analytical ways, in order to create a much more resilient society. A society that, at a macro level can cope with global pandemics and the impact of climate change, but also managing the micro of individual lives. Be that working from home (a safe, secure and beautiful home for everyone!), creating liveable cities, and towns and villages with the facilities we all need. There is no doubt the way we all work, operate and approach the development industry has to evolve and quickly. It can’t just be about economics, maximising assets and financial reward for the few. It must be able to generate a more encompassing and inclusive form of value. Some developers and practitioners understand this and are moving towards this more quickly than others. 

Planning is many different things to different people, both working within and outside the profession. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s better than nothing. It enables a degree of control over what is built and where. It provides the opportunity to ensure we are creating and shaping a world that enables new, forward thinking development that must balance the needs of our communities, our health and wellbeing, heritage, sustainability and biodiversity. To some it is a political football, to others it is excessively controlling, some not restrictive enough, but to us it has to be a collaborative process. There has to be involvement, collaboration and compromise on all sides of the industry.  As American urban theorist Jane Jacobs succinctly concluded “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” The same can be said for Planning. 

Can we live without Planning?

We passionately believe that Planning is about the positive management of change and is a force for good. It enables us to look after and out for everyone in society and has to be about creating communities that work for everyone. It has to reconcile the past, the present and the future.

Planning is an integral part of the development process. Whether you like it or not you can’t do anything without it. Planning is governed by primary and secondary legislation, case law and the Development Plan process. Consequently it is constantly evolving. LPA officers are as much a part of a design team as any other colleague you employ directly. So many other aspects of civic life are involved in the process from civil servants and government employees at PINS, MHCLG to the legal profession. Planning even has its own Planning Court! This is a specialist court within the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and at district registries across England and Wales. It  carries out judicial reviews of decisions made by LPAs and hears other challenges to planning decisions including appeals and applications relating to planning permission, development consent, compulsory purchase orders, highways and other rights of way and decisions under EU environmental legislation.

So what about us?

As a Planning Consultancy, we provide advice and strategies on a development proposal or scheme. This helps to inform your decision making processes, helps you save money, avoid costly mistakes, gets you out of a mess and ultimately helps you make money. We manage an application process, so you don’t have to, so you can focus on the more important things in your business and life. We support or lead design teams. We provide input to guide your design team and help to resolve problems (although to be honest we are not miracle workers and we can’t always do this!). We provide support – planning and sometimes emotional, act as a sounding board when you want to rant and moan. We can help direct your purchasing strategy and your development strategy. We can help you manage your property portfolio. We can assist with the refinement of your schemes, drive schemes and avoid mistakes. We support and advocate for you or introduce you to additional support and experts that you might need. We’re always an honest voice, whether it’s wanted or not. Sometimes we get thanked, mostly we don’t. Sometimes we get acknowledged as a valued member of a team. Mostly we don’t. Underpinning all of this, for us, are the following principles: value, kindness, empathy, collaborative working, sustainability, curiosity, investment, support and giving back, passion, communication and fun – see our 2020 Manifesto!

So, in a year where we want to spread the love for Planning as a profession (and dare we say it even as a vocation), we’ve been asking Planners from a variety of backgrounds and different parts of the profession why, amongst other things, they think it’s important, what makes them tick, what they love, hate or find challenging about the profession. So keep an eye out over the next 12 months for our interviews with all sorts of interesting people, first up is Kathrine Haddrell from PINS.