Posted: 22 Apr. 2020 5 min. read

“Planning” for Recovery

It is too early to suggest we are into the recovery stage of the pandemic. We are in the depths of the most serious crisis in my lifetime, and certainly since the second World War. However, the planning system and the development industry has to keep working, it has a key role to play in the economic recovery, and in adapting the built environment of the future to take account of changes to how we live and work. During the first 5 weeks remote working in the depths of the South Downs National Park near Winchester, I have observed the planning system adapt rapidly to the challenges of remote working and social distancing. Through my lens of working on a new community, regenerating a town centre, and a national infrastructure project we have not missed a beat in the progressing planning applications or other processes to secure a basis for development. Discussing this with colleagues in London, Manchester and Leeds, they have found these to be similar observations. Highlights have been:

  • Strong Partnerships have got stronger - local authority/developer and government agencies recognising a shared purpose in delivering much needed development.
  • A sense of urgency to be ready for the recovery and to be in the forefront, particularly to be positioned to meet criteria for Funding, which is expected to be significant particularly in the delivery of housing, jobs, renewing town centres and building new infrastructure.
  • A recognition of the need for change – in the design of homes, workplaces, public places. The critical importance of creating healthy environments, with natural spaces at the heart of new homes and town centres, of creating a digital infrastructure that supports remote working, public services, social life. Density, the size of homes, provision for communal spaces for work and relaxation, quality of sunlight – all these factors are now being debated with renewed energy.
  • Civic leadership has never been as important, and it has been great to see leadership and innovation from local authorities embracing virtual committees, driving recovery plans, building confidence.

There are unexpected consequences. Local authorities can meet with developers remotely – saving huge amounts of time. Virtual meetings are very focussed, the emphasis is getting things done, and in my experience so far in keeping things simple. Officers may find they have more time to follow up and get things done. Virtual meetings are inclusive – you can invite a wider team, graduate colleagues, the cost of travel having been removed.

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