One of the reasons why normal people develop a deep distrust for the planning system must be down the difficulty experienced in trying to understand and track proposals to address its failings and propose improvements. Every new Government seems to see it as a duty to introduce fundamental changes through manifesto pledges, white papers, green papers, and ministerial statements in the press and in Hansard. During years of grandstanding there will be expressions of public opinion through opinion polls and by-election results, and the publication of reports by NGOs and think tanks. Eventually a Parliamentary bill will emerge that seeks to meet the test of fundamental change but actually amounts to more than tinkering around the fringe.
Welcome to the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill. Fortunately this bears little if any resemblance to the Future of Planning White Paper drafted by Policy Exchange. But neither does it meet any of the criteria associated with the levelling up of a divided country. The unintended consequence is to alienate all those who would like to engage with the planning system to explore the potential to tackle the closely joined crises afflicting the climate and nature.
Borne out of this frustration is another report and Making the Most Out of England’s Land can be found on the UK Parliament website (pdf). Lord Cameron of Dillington, chair of the Land Use in England Committee said, "Land use in England is facing a growing number of conflicting pressures and demands including for food, nature, biodiversity, net zero targets, housing, energy and wellbeing. The government cannot afford to deprioritise this issue.”
The proposed Land Use Commission would be responsible for creating a land use framework which will help identify and address current and emerging challenges and opportunities for land use in England. The framework should, "replace the current siloed approach to land use policy with a deliberative and cooperative technique in order to make use of the opportunities and synergies that provides".
The provision, access to and maintenance of green space would be a priority in the framework. Lord Dillington added that, in addition to a land use framework, regional priorities should be encouraged through the proposed Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs). "The government must ensure LNRSs are given appropriate funding and prominence in the planning system to enable them to operate successfully and gain traction amongst farmers and other land managers.”
While it is preferable for the LNRSs to be embedded in the planning system that emerges from its brush with the LURB, the progress of the latter bill through Parliament is so fraught with political infighting that Lord Dillington and his colleagues might be well advised to look elsewhere and promote LNRSs for their own sake and on their own terms. That is a very unfortunate conclusion to arrive at as the losers will be all those who have been waiting for the planning system to deliver on the regeneration of the environment. The environment itself will be poorer from these political games as it is treated as something separate from rather than intrinsic to our daily lives.