Q&A: Mike Harris

The annual planning report from the British Property Federation and property consultant GL Hearn shows a national system straining at the seams. We ask the RTPI’s Dr Michael Harris, deputy head of policy and research, if things are really that bad

Is GL Hearn/ BPF’s annual planning survey relevant to the industry?

It’s a pretty well established survey and a key one for the sector, and this one generally reflects the findings of surveys done by the National Audit Office and Local Government Association. We did our own report with Arup focusing on the North West, ‘Investing in Delivery’, and it came to the same conclusions.

Is the resourcing of LA planners of particular concern to the RTPI?

We’re obviously representing the interests of our members but what’s coming out in this research is whether planners are able to deliver development and whether we need to look at the system again to address the fact that resourcing of it is critical.

Should LPAs, as the report seems to suggest, be increasing planning application fees to ensure adequate resourcing?

I don’t think it’s just about the money. It’s about whether there are in fact enough qualified, experienced people in the system and what to do about replacing them when they leave. The money aspect didn’t particularly come through in our research. I do think local authorities need to recognise the value that planning brings to economies through development and growth. In the North West there was £16m generated from the New Homes Bonus alone.

What is the RTPI’s view of the current state of the system? What one change would you want to effect now?

My number one ask would be more stability in planning. We can’t keep having national planning policy changes as a result of top down political posturing. We understand that the government wants more delivery but these things are much more difficult on the ground and local authorities are in a better position to grasp the true nature of the problem. We know central government wants action but we need less change and more consistency.

The Housing Bill and the removal of the requirement for social housing – are we on a hiding to nowhere?

There are a number of people who’ve questioned the affordability of homes. Our focus is on creating socially cohesive communities. We are looking at providing healthy mixed communities and if people are being priced out of those it’s problematic. We’re going to have to take a closer look at the policy to see what the implications are.