The Raynsford Review: Town Planning & housing reform?

Planning 2020

The new Raynsford Review’s Interim Report “Planning 2020”, by former housing minister Nick Raynsford, was presented on 15th May at the House of Lords. The review is being led for the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and by a cross-section of built environmental professionals, including CPRE, and has engaged with over 1,000 people over the last year including many members of the public. The report examines the English Planning System highlighting that continued deregulation has led to very poor-quality outcomes as the planning system has become too focused on delivering a large number of new houses without considering their location, design quality and affordability. This is particularly acute in London and its West London Boroughs (served by WEA Planning). 

The report makes nine provisional recommendations for reforms to the planning system. These include giving the public a greater voice in the planning process and establishing a statutory definition of planning which could regulate development based on its potential for achieving “social, economic and cultural wellbeing”. It also recommends a legal obligation for the government to plan for the needs of future generations which, combined with a more simplified law, would aim at the increased community participation and at meeting people’s basic needs.

Stephen Bell, senior director and head of Turley’s northern planning team, commenting on Raynsford Review suggested that it is not the right time for a comprehensive reboot of the system. The desire of both the private and the public sector is for clarity and refinement, not fundamental review. The short-term future of the planning system should be driven by fundamentals such as everyone’s right to a decent home aiming at positive and deliverable outcomes, rather than aspirational ones that will take many years to shape and realise. 

Andrew Lainton, in his article for the Raynsford Review agrees with Bell, arguing that the report’s focus is on high level aspirations and that there is no national progressive consensus for the approach which might have worked in mid 1940s. According to Lainton, the TCPA misdiagnoses the main reason for the recent fragmentation of positive plan led planning. England’s failure to deliver sufficient land for affordable housing has been a major source of inter-generational inequity while the planning system has also been captured in many areas by those who seek to protect existing housing prices. YIMBY would agree. 

Despite the fact that every aspect of a design is subject to public comment and officer intervention, the English system has markedly not led to better place making compared to other systems where design control is more focused, and the public sector has a much stronger enabling role. The report’s criticism for the recent expansion of PD rights for office to residential was also queried as from a ‘land supply’ perspective the policy has been a success in delivering a large number of brownfield units.

Lainton supports that a view that the TCPA is being held back by Hugh Ellis’s often expressed prejudice against zoning and subdivision and the failure to appreciate the benefits of hybrid systems of zoning and design control. Finally, he suggests that the full report – due to be published this autumn – must be more focussed on specific changes, as a planning reform would create more problems than it could solve and that it must take an international comparative focus. 

Lainton’s blog is an astonishing analysis and worth digesting. 


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