Community, not just profit must be blueprint for planning
RECENT commentary has expressed the view that complexity and rigidity in the planning system is holding back development and fuelling a housing supply shortage and a housing bubble. Confidence and certainty are key strengths the planning system brings developers but repeated, sometimes conflicting, calls for the knee-jerk relaxation of planning standards under the banner of 'reform' undermines this. It attempts to reframe a strength as a weakness, sowing confusion and cynicism.
The planning system must always be responsive but it would be a retrograde step to install the laissez faire approach to planning that some advocate. There is scope to deal with some types of applications or minor alterations more quickly. However, the pressure to 'fast track' large development or facilitate major changes to approved projects without planning or community oversight must be resisted. When examining proposals, planning does not seek to put unnecessary hurdles in the way of good development that complies with the objectives of the development plan. As Department of the Environment Ministers Phil Hogan and Jan O'Sullivan's foreword to last year's Local Area Plans – Guidelines for Planning Authorities states, we must focus on "settlements and place, rather than just development ... We need to plan for communities, not for profit".
Serviced urban land remains a scarce resource and professional planners are the experts in ensuring it is effectively managed for the long term. Planning correctly now gives us the best chance of avoiding storing up issues for the future. We cannot lose sight of the fact that climate change is the greatest long-term challenge facing the planet and that unsustainable, car dependent, badly designed patterns of development today block the way to a low-carbon future. Part of this is ensuring that we make the most of vacant and underutilised land in and around our city and town centres. Focus on the long term and sustainable development is the key characteristic of planning that must never be compromised and we must heed the lessons of the past. Planning cannot endorse marginal or low-quality proposals again.