Sunand Prasad, RIBA President 2007-09

The idea behind the Town and Country Planning Acts was to prevent the bad and promote the good in the construction of our built environment. So why does the reverse seem to happen so often? RIBA members cite the unreliability of the planning system as one of the major problems for practice and it is a high priority for the Institute. Successive governments have tried to reform the system. The last Act was passed only a year or so ago, but it is clear that while it did some sensible things on the big picture, it did not deal with the day to day operational crises besetting the system. So the Department of Community and Local Government has a further review now in progress.

I believe that the confusion between the respective responsibilities of Planning Authority Members and Officers is one of the key issues to tackle. Another key issue is the lack of clear, logical, consistent and prior direction to applicants and their agents. On top if it all is the sheer lack of resource made worse by the number of domestic scale proposals that should be dealt with by a much lighter touch, if at all. The imposition of artificial performance targets further distorts the whole picture.

The RIBA ‘Manifesto for Architecture’ calls for “investing in a planning system where planners are valued and equipped with a sound understanding of design”. A Planning Group has been set up tasked with drawing up proposals for real improvements in the system, whose original aims we all value.