Planning, as councillors know, is a democratic tool in the otherwise messy business of shaping the future and sharing scarce resources. But, writes Kate Henderson, planning must change so it is genuinely focused on people’s needs.

The planning system originally grew out of a powerful recognition that the places in which we live have a huge impact on the quality of our lives – and a collective view that, as a society, we should aspire to create places in which everyone can thrive.

Throughout the 20th century successive iterations of planning policy had social justice at their heart. Yet in recent years something has gone badly wrong. In England there is no longer a national or regional way of working out solutions to our problems such as housing need and regeneration, and instead of having people’s wellbeing as its priority, the planning system prioritises economic growth above all else.

Relaxing permitted development has led to tens of thousands of new homes being created without having to get planning permission (for example, through the conversion of commercial buildings into homes), and this means that little or no thought is given to the most basic issues, such as where children can play or whether there are enough doctors’ surgeries in the area. More and more development is being approved in piecemeal locations, often through appeals, leading to development that is often poorly served by infrastructure such as roads, hospitals or schools. We are producing fewer and fewer affordable and social homes so homelessness and affordability are blighting people’s lives.

What has this achieved? All over the country working people can’t afford to buy a home. People on benefits are forced to move hundreds of miles away because there are no affordable rented homes where they live. And local councils are unable to refuse permission for developments that they know will harm their communities.

As planning becomes more deregulated and less about meeting people’s needs for homes, green spaces, and attractive towns, cities and villages, it is clear that planning must change so that it is genuinely focused on people. #Planning4People is a coalition of organisations and individuals who share a common belief in the value of place making to achieve a just and sustainable future. It is led by the TCPA with support from the Webb Memorial Trust. We are a broad coalition including councillors, academics, planning practitioners, housing associations and charities supporting disabled people and the environment, and together we are determined to ensure that planning shapes the kind of places that this nation deserves.

Our objective is to bring about the rebirth of the creative social town planning which did so much to lay the foundation of a civilised Britain. Our guiding principles are that planning should be:

  • democratic and fair with people at the heart of the process
  • guided by a powerful definition of sustainable development which emphasises social justice as a key outcome
  • powerful so it can regulate change
  • responsible, so that it meets the basic needs of those who struggle most today without restricting the ability of future generations to live decent lives.

As part of the #Planning4People coalition we have launched a manifesto setting out what planning should be – a people-centred process which emphasises social justice as a key outcome.

Within this manifesto, we are inviting local government representatives to join us in asking national government to restore powers over permitted development to local authorities. Councils should have the power to be able to make vital decisions about the types of developments that are being brought forward in their communities.

We are also asking local government to adopt a strong social approach to local plans. This will include shaping policy to prioritise the social dimension of place-making, and ensure that social and affordable housing receives the highest priority.

If you would like to know more about #Planning4People please visit www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/planning4people.html or follow us on Twitter @socialtownplan and help us place social justice back at the heart of the planning system.

Kate Henderson is Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association. This article first appeared in C’llr magazine October 2015.

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