Planners cry foul over prime minister’s intervention In his enthusiasm to “build, build, build”


In his enthusiasm to “build, build, build”, Boris Johnson has riled the planning industry.

In an attempt to boost the UK’s construction and development sectors, prime minster Boris Johnson unveiled “the most radical reforms to the planning system since the Second World War” earlier this week. With characteristic ebullience, his so-called “build, build, build” speech announced an extension of current permitted development rights (PDR).

The proposals have been met with mixed-reactions from then industry, with many observing that the proposals are a minor tweaks of existing policy re-packaged as major reform. The housing sector has greeted it with cautious enthusiasm as a means of expediting the delivery of new homes, while remaining wary of a potential decline in standards in the absence of any dur process.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (@RTPIPlanners) has been one of the most vociferous critics of the new proposals, initially warning that “the whole point of PDR is to bypass planning for speed, efficiency and cheapness”. Its response escalated later this week, when the Institute penned an open letter denouncing the prime minister’s speech for blaming planners for putting the brakes on development. The letter points out that “the not-so-subtle attempt to tarnish the reputation of planners in order to pave the way for an overhaul of the planning system is dangerous to say the least.”

We can only hope, in his enthusiasm to get Britain building again, that the prime minister hasn’t unwittingly pitted the country’s planning authorities and development community against one another. As has been proven time and time again, the best development and placemaking opportunities are delivered when local authorities and developers work in a collegiate an collaborative way. It is unhelpful to criticise planners or developers for past mistakes or misdemeanours – as there are plenty of examples from both sides of the fence – and is instead more constructive to encourage better ways of working together. Removing planners from the process entirely is arguably not the best way of achieving this. The extension of PDR is one solution to rebuilding our economy and high streets, but granting some developers immunity for robust scrutiny is likely to yield unintended consequences.

As Hannah Quarterman, head of planning @HoganLovells puts it: “Support for building is generally always attractive…..but enthusiasm needs to be tempered by ensuring we are building the right things, in the right place, in the right way.”

The changing economic landscape post-COVID has challenged the development community to demonstrate its value and creativity and it is likely that the majority will use the opportunity – and the additional flexibility offered by recent planning reform – to do just that. And, as an industry, we shouldn’t be afraid to call out those who prove the exception to the rule.​

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