Improve training of planners and councillors to get better planning decisions, says new report

9 Aug 2010

Policy area: Planning

A new report by leading planning and development bodies is calling for greater training in development economics for planners and others involved in the planning process.  

The need for planners and allied professionals to expand their understanding of the factors influencing development viability is seen as more important than ever, given the challenging economic and development conditions that lie ahead. The strong consensus that has been achieved between the private and public sectors should help ensure that the report’s recommendations are implemented. 

The consortium backing the report, which received financial support from the Department for Communities and Local Government, believes that planners should receive more training in the economics surrounding the development process to enable them to make more informed decisions, both when preparing local plans and considering new housing and commercial development projects. A survey conducted as part of the work showed that 71 percent of planners thought their knowledge and skills in this area required improvement and were keen to improve their knowledge and understanding.

The report carried out by consultants Roger Tym & Partners stresses all planners need to understand the motivations for developing property, in addition to the commercial issues and criteria used by developers to assess projects. The property and planning sectors believe that more training in this area would speed up the system, make better use of resources and enable the quicker delivery of new homes and other vital development.

Better training is needed not only by planners but also by others who need to understand factors that can affect the viability of schemes. These include councillors who take final decisions and those who advise on affordable housing, education and health provision.

John Parmiter, who directed the study, said:

“Most planners involved with deliverability and viability issues need to be able to commission the right advice and to understand the results. The study team hope that our work will lead to a step change in skills across the planning sector in this whole area.”

The report stresses that some planners, such as those dealing with section 106 agreements and community infrastructure levies, will need higher levels of training. It recommends that training be offered at three levels:

  • Basic – all planners, relevant councilors and consultees/stakeholders should have a basic awareness of the development process; however training for councillors will be necessarily more constrained.
  • Intermediate – many planners and consultees who regularly deal with deliverability and viability issues should have a good understanding of development viability and project implementation, allowing them to confidently commission an appraisal, understand the variables and engage in detailed negotiations.
  • Advanced – for those planners and other disciplines regularly involved with complex projects, those routinely involved with 106 negotiations, regeneration, CPO and obligations toolkits, there is a need for specific skills in development economics.

Welcoming the report Francis Salway, chief executive of Land Securities, the country’s biggest developer, said:

“Developers are keen to work more closely with communities to ensure the schemes we deliver are what local people want. But as we work to understand what they want, it is vital that planners and councillors have a firm grasp of what enables us to produce the right spread of amenities and what factors and demands risk undermining projects and making them unviable.”

The consortium are now preparing a plan to implement the report’s recommendations but many of the bodies involved are already taking forward new initiatives to improve skills in this area. This ranges from courses being rolled out around the country by the Planning Advisory Service and the Home and Communities Agency, to CPD courses being developed by the RTPI, and the Planning Officers Society and new guidance on viability issues in development being worked up by the RICS.