The future of the planning system in England Contents

9Resources and skills

177.Two themes emerged in our evidence regarding the resourcing of the planning system. First, that LPA do not have enough resources. Second, that the Government’s proposed reforms would increase the needs for particular skills that in turn would need further funding. Nobody argued that the current level funding for LPAs was adequate.

Need for additional resources

178.The National Audit Office has calculated that, even allowing for increases in revenue from planning fees, spending on planning had fallen by 14.6% from £1.125 billion in 2010–11 to £961 million in 2017–18.590 As planning fees do not cover the cost of applications, taxpayers are contributing nearly £180 million a year.591 This reduction in funding contributed towards a 15% reduction in planning staff between 2006 and 2016. There was also a fall of 13% in planning inspectors between 2010 and 2018. In response to these reductions the Government has funded a bursary scheme and supported an RTPI initiative bid to establish a degree-level planning apprenticeship.592 There has been a particular loss of specialist staff. Between 2006 and 2018 there was a fall of 35% in conservation officers, and a 34% reduction in archaeologists. Only 26% of English local authorities now have in-house ecological expertise. This was alongside reduced funding for statutory consultees, such as Natural England and Historic England.593 Other changes, such as the then Government’s policy of removing design considerations from planning in the 1980s, were also blamed for a decline in those specialist skills.594

179.The lack of resources, coupled with a lack of expertise, were seen to have added to delays in the planning process.595 Brian Berry highlighted that speeding up the planning process, a key objective of the Government’s reforms, depended on resources: “One of the things that worries me is resources. None of this is possible unless there are adequate resources to carry this out.”596 Kate Henderson emphasised reforming the system “will require a huge amount of resource up front.”597 The need for funding to undertake a transformation in the planning system was reiterated by local authority representatives,598 alongside the greater resources needed to enhance the digital aspects of the planning system.599 Additional costs may also result from the transitional period where there would have to be two planning systems simultaneously.600

180.We wanted to know how much additional funding was needed to meet the increased demands. The RTPI stated it had proposed £500 million to the comprehensive spending review.601 This would be divided amongst various sub-funds “which would be related to specific outcomes such as increasing community engagement, digital planning and place making.” This related to a fear the planning system was too dependent on planning fees for revenue.602

181.When this figure was put to the Minister he replied: “I am very conscious of the need for the right level of resources in local authorities and the time of those resources to do the job that they need to do.” He pointed to the £12 million provided at the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review “to take forward the government’s radical planning reform agenda” as a beginning.603 He stated the Government was “committed to a review of resources and skills”, which will look at options for the new planning structure. He also argued a benefit of the Government’s reforms is that planning officials will have more time to focus on strategic planning rather than processing administrative paperwork.604

The need for skills

182.In its consultation the Government stated it would “develop a comprehensive resources and skills strategy for the planning sector to support the implementation of our reforms.” It especially singled out digital skills.605 We were warned that a negative consequence of the proposed reforms could be that “through more automation and coding,” planning work would be reduced “to routine and administrative tasks, ignoring the role of skilled professionals in negotiating improved outcomes amongst multiple stakeholders.”606 Instead there was a need to improve the reputation of working in planning.607

183.The National Trust stressed that there would be various new demands introduced by the Government’s reforms:

In future planning authorities will be required to put greater effort into defining ‘areas’ and their requirements in their allocation of land (plan making); into complex cases and enforcement. Increased capability around design coding, master planning, managing spatial data and digital skills and community engagement expertise will also be needed to support the new local plan system.608

An array of different skills was identified as being needed to implement the Government’s reforms. Foremost amongst these was design.609 The Government has proposed all local authorities have a chief officer for design and place-making.610 RTPI emphasised part of their proposed £500 million “would be a specific design element in order to get us over this initial investment that would be needed before you could arrive at some kind of steady state in which these codes would be operative and smoothly in place.”611 Most LPAs lack “a suitable level of design skills”, with planners not being trained in design and LPAs having lost their architectural departments and skills in conservation. Thus, we were told LPAs would need additional resources “to undertake proper design governance, such as detailed design briefs, site-specific guidelines or post-occupancy evaluation.”612

184.Other skills areas highlighted to us where there are shortages included conservation skills,613 local ecology specialists,614 those with experience with heritage buildings,615 and planning for minerals.616 Local authorities also needed to improve their expertise in meeting the needs of the elderly,617 and improving water management.618 The development of digital platforms would also require LPAs to have “the resources and skills necessary to achieve this.”619 To ensure place-makers are available in every local authority, the RTPI proposed these should be chartered town planners.620 The City of London Corporation expressed concern that the Government was not planning to provide additional resources for placemaking, whilst arguing LPAs “have limited resources to allocate to Local Plan-making”.621 Similarly, the increased role of the Planning Inspectorate in evaluating Local Plans will “require sufficient resources to carry out this important role effectively.”622 It was suggested that increased training and upskilling would ensure “local authority personnel across different areas are able to apply policy and guidance”.623

185.There is a clear need for additional resources for local planning authorities and this was reflected in evidence from a wide range of sectors. The reduction in their funding is slowing down the workings of the planning system. The Government’s proposed reforms will require additional specialist skills, for example in areas such as design, on top of the existing resource pressures faced by the planning system. The Royal Town Planning Institute estimated that £500 million over four years was needed in additional funding. We therefore welcome the additional funding provided at the Comprehensive Spending Review, and the Minister’s assurance that this is only the start. The pressures on the system will only increase if the Government proceeds with its reforms, including the thirty-month timeframe for Local Plans, at the same time as LPAs have to continue to operate the current system. The Ministry should now seek to obtain a Treasury commitment for an additional £500 million over four years for local planning authorities. Providing this certainty of funding should precede the introduction of the Planning Bill.

186.The Government’s reforms require an increase in planning staff, especially those with specific specialist skills, such as design. These skills gaps will need to be filled if the planning system is to be improved. The Government must undertake and publish a resources and skills strategy in advance of primarily legislation, to clearly explain how the various skill needs of the planning system will be met.

590 National Audit Office, Planning for new homes, HC 1923, February, 2019, p 39

591 Local Government Association (FPS0056)

592 National Audit Office, Planning for new homes, HC 1923, February, 2019, pp 11, 42–4

593 National Trust (FPS0157)

594 Professor Malcolm Tait (Professor of Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Andy Inch (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Aidan While (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Madeleine Pill (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield) (FPS0098)

595 Ashford KALC (Combined parish, town and community organisations in the borough of Ashford, Kent) (FPS0060), Association of Convenience Stores (FPS0069), Peel L&P (FPS0094)

596 Q2 (Brian Berry)

597 Q6 (Kate Henderson). See also Q54 (Lisa Fairmaner and Andrew Longley)

598 Q53 (Andrew Longley)

599 Local Government Association (FPS0056), Southwark Council (FPS0110)

600 Q75 (Richard Blyth)

602 Q83 (Richard Blyth)

603 Qq170–171 (The Minister); HM Treasury, Spending Review 2020, CP 330, November 2020, p 74

604 Qq170–171 (The Minister)

606 Professor Malcolm Tait (Professor of Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Andy Inch (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Aidan While (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Madeleine Pill (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield) (FPS0098)

607 Savills (FPS0101)

608 National Trust (FPS0157)

609 Local Government Association (FPS0056), Homes for the South West (FPS0070), District Councils’ Network (FPS0082), Professor Malcolm Tait (Professor of Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Andy Inch (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Aidan While (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Madeleine Pill (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield) (FPS0098), City of London Corporation (FPS0148), National Trust (FPS0157), Q6 (Kate Henderson), Q53 (Andrew Longley)

611 Q75 (Richard Blyth)

612 Dr Chris Foye (Knowledge Exchange Associate at UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence); Dr James White; Prof. Flora Samuel; Ton Kenny; Dr Gareth James; Dr Bilge Serin (FPS0033)

613 Institute of Historic Building Conservation (FPS0044). See also CLA (FPS0049), London Borough of Hackney (FPS0091)

614 Wildlife & Countryside Link (FPS0075)

615 Institute of Historic Building Conservation (FPS0044)

616 Mineral Products Association (FPS0050)

617 Centre for Ageing Better (FPS0055)

618 National Flood Forum [FPS126]

619 CPRE the countryside charity (FPS0077)

620 Royal Town Planning Institute (FPS0113)

621 City of London Corporation (FPS0148)

622 British Property Federation (FPS0127)

623 Woodland Trust (FPS0045). See also Locality (FPS0086), Professor Malcolm Tait (Professor of Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Andy Inch (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Aidan While (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield); Dr Madeleine Pill (Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning at University of Sheffield) (FPS0098)




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