I have been reading up on planning issues again (and watching the BBC2 The Planners on Thursday nights), and am attending a seminar on Neighbourhood Plans tomorrow. Our community group has had a talk on Neighbourhood Forums, and we have done a consultation on the parts of the Urban Core Area Action Plan (this is at the next level up in the planning policy and strategy) that relate to our area.
Town and country planning in the UK seems more complex the more I read about it. I have been more aware of other legislation that connects in with the planning process as a result of my work, especially the 11 years I spent at English Heritage. Part of my work was as a member of teams that planned works at the guardianship sites (conserving the ancient monuments, creating new exhibition spaces or other visitor facilities in existing or new buildings, restoring historic gardens and landscapes) and so I had been aware of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 (guardianship sites tend to attract wildlife, and have spaces that bats especially like), and later on of PPG 15 (Planning Policy Guidance 15 – Planning and the Historic Environment). I also had a more in-depth knowledge of the Ancient Monuments and Archchaeological Areas Act of 1979 (it was the first thing I was told to read), and had handled Scheduled Monument Consent casework for a year.
I attended workshops held over a six-month period from autumn 2011 to spring 2012 by Northern Architecture to learn more about urban planning and design that was relevant to Ouseburn in Newcastle. As we were doing those workshops the Neighbourhood Planning Frontrunners were starting on the process of creating the first Neighbourhood Plans, with the encouragement of the DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government). I am aware that the the current Government are keen on developers building.
There are a lot of issues to consider when at the reactive level of the planning system, looking at planning applications. It can be quite difficult to be objective, especially when the design of the buildings and landscaping is not great and it replaces or blocks a familiar view. Reacting to the occasional planning application is different from being involved with creating a Neighbourhood Plan, thinking of what the people living, working, and playing in an area will need in the future. Amongst the key questions about planning policy and process that I am thinking about currently are: 1) how can we encourage the best quality designs from developers (almost all buildings look so much more aesthetic in the glossy visualisations)? 2) how do we consult much more widely at local level? The seminar will not answer those questions (though there may be suggestions for how to consult), but should help us understand Neighbourhood Plans.