Austerity stopping planners from serving public, study finds

Austerity’s effect on planning has been laid bare by a new study which outlines how it has eroded planners’ ability to serve the public interest.

A lack of resources and ill-thought planning reforms post-2010 have reduced planning to a more reactionary function for many local authorities, creating a ‘box-ticking culture’, the report says.

The study, a joint undertaking by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and Newcastle University, finds that these changes have made it harder for public and private sector planners to make long-term decisions, affecting their ability to best serve the public.

Victoria Hills, RTPI chief executive, said: ‘Local planning authorities have demonstrated exceptional resilience in the face of austerity by becoming more streamlined and efficient. Whilst planners in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland remain overall confident, planning in England does face some serious challenges.

‘Places where authorities put planning at the heart of their corporate strategy are successful places to live, yet our research uncovers a prevailing sense that local authority planners face huge challenges to their ability to plan effectively in the public interest.’

The study took the form of focus groups with around 50 planning professionals in cities across the breadth of the UK.

Respondents to the study said that while austerity has made many local planning authorities more efficient and business-like, they are concerned that it has made planning increasingly be seen as a way of generating revenue for authorities, with less emphasis on the public good.

The study highlighted the rise of new ‘austerity planners’ – planners who are highly sought after and skilled but who have little room for proactive, independent planning, often moving between jobs at the cost of long-term relationships.

Austerity has also affected leadership in planning as many talented planners are flocking to private consultancies able to pay more than the public sector.

Planners also expressed scepticism about the value-for-money offered by outsourcing planning and the effect this has on delivering quality service.

Hills explained that the effect of austerity on local government planning is an issue that the RTPI is taking seriously.

‘We are campaigning local authorities to put planning back at the top table of corporate decision-making and will continue to make the case for better resourcing,’ she said.

The news comes as a report found last week that northern English cities are bearing the brunt of austerity measures.

An annual report by Cities Outlook – published by the thinktank Centre for Cities – found that the five cities worst affected by local government cuts since 2010 are all in the North of England, with Northern cities bearing budget cuts of 20% on average compared to 9% in other regions of England.

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