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Future planning: is there another sort?

26th October 2011

By Rob Cowan

My first reaction to the following extract from the RTPI’s recent Response to the Draft National Planning Policy Framework, was that it, like the rest of that response, made good sense. ‘Considering proposals on a case-by-case basis prevents the proper assessment of a proposal against the available alternatives,’ the RTPI writes. ‘In any one case, it may be difficult to justify the protection of a single piece of countryside or a building of historic interest against the imperative to provide more homes or business premises. However, other sites may be available where there is no such harm, or where there are other benefits. The best way to assess alternatives is through a regularly updated development plan process.’

 My second reaction was: yes, it makes good sense, but what sort of world are we living in that it needs saying? Is our national political debate at the level of having to make the case that the rational, democratic consideration of development proposals on the basis of regularly updated development plans might be a good thing? Certainly the planning system needs to be improved, but if we go right back to the beginning whenever that is the case we will never make progress. The roof’s leaking? Fine, we’ll demolish our home and discuss whether we need a house at all. That’s a guaranteed way of wasting everyone’s time and resources. In those circumstances the RTPI’s reponse to the draft NPPF has been amazingly measured, no doubt due to the institute’s concern not to be written off by the government as a bunch of self-interested special-pleaders.  

 This got me to thinking about the term forward planning, defined in The Dictionary of Urbanism (see www.citydefined.com) as ‘Preparing development plans, as opposed to development control (or development management) planning, which applies them.’ In that sense the term forward planning is not the tautology it seems. Forward planning is, perhaps, a euphemism for future planning, a term which sounds plain stupid (leading the uninitiated to ask: what other sort of planning could there be?), though St Edmundsbury District Council’s website does gloss ‘planning policy’ as ‘future planning’.

 Let’s agree on one thing: considering proposals on a case-by-case basis is not planning. Planning actually involves (whisper it) making plans.


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