The foundations for a new approach to development are claimed to have been laid in 2011, with the introduction of neighbourhood planning by the Localism Act. So it was interesting, when I was tidying up some papers and books in my office yesterday, to come across “Development Plans – a manual on form and content” published in 1970 by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Hardback, about 200 pages long, it is the manual to guide the implementation of the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 which had “introduced a development plan system which is new in form, content and procedure” bringing in “new procedures for the participation of the public in the formulation of plans”.
“The new system, with its more positive approach, will facilitate the creation of a good environment in both the town and country. It has been a criticism of post-war development plans that they have acted mainly as a basis for negative control…and that they do not allow the public to see in time – or indeed at all- what is to be the nature of the changes”
I can’t access a copy of the Act at the moment, but from the manual this is the introduction of the structure plan and local plan system. In addition there could be district plans for the comprehensive planning of relatively extensive areas, action area plans for planning of areas selected for intensive change within a specified period, and subject plans to address for example minerals, recreation, conservation or areas of outstanding natural beauty.
There was to be consultation because matters transcend planning authority boundaries – “If such matters are to be properly dealt with, extensive and early liaison will be required with neighbouring planning authorities…”. And public participation, because it was intended “that individual members of the public, and local and national bodies with an interest in planning should be able to participate far more in the process of planning than hitherto”.
The manual does not put much flesh on those bones of public participation, but referred instead to the Skeffington Report of 1969 set up under Arthur Skeffington MP to formulate advice on those questions.
The similarities with what has just been introduced are striking. Matters transcend local authority boundaries, so the Localism Act brings in the duty to cooperate. Individuals feel disenfranchised, so the Localism Act introduces neighbourhood and community planning.
But what about these words? “The people whose surroundings are being planned must be given every chance to take an active part in the planning process, particularly when the stage of detail is reached. It is not merely landowners in the area who are affected, or even business interests.” That was Lewis Silkin, pictured above, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, introducing the Town and Country Planning Bill on 29th January 1947. Why has that not worked? The RTPI comment that the planning profession’s history of working with communities can be traced back to Skeffington (what had they been doing between 1947 and 1969?) but that despite the enthusiasm of planners, the response of the public was disappointing.
In 2012 we will be implementing localism. How will work out? Will neighbourhoods and parishes promulgate neighbourhood plans, to provide housing and commercial space? Greg Clark, the Minister for Planning said in a keynote speech to the Adam Smith Institute in February:
“This Government is proposing fundamental reform. We want to restore the reputation of planning as a service that works for the public, and that the public feel is on their side. Instead of being principally a means of arbitrating disputes, it should be a positive process, where people come together and agree a vision for the future of the place where they live. It should also – crucially – be a system that delivers more growth.
I want to make this crystal clear. I am pro-development…Our aim with the Localism Bill is not to prevent new building, but to promote it.”
Or will localism in planning be an easy way to say “no” as local communities face difficult decisions, with effects, both positive and negative, which transcend local boundaries. The next sentence of Lewis Silkin’s speech was this: “Too often in the past the objections of a noisy minority have been allowed to drown the voices of other people vitally affected.”