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Am I a man more planned against than planning


This question, paraphrasing King Lear, was posed by the distinguished Sevenoaks resident Sir Desmond Heap in his seminal work on the Law of Town Planning, first published in 1947. Sir Desmond recognised many years ago that the concept of land use planning, despite all its advantages, could potentially backfire. The result of this thereby leaving us with the burden of development control, without the benefit of positive land use planning that should reflect and accommodate the changing needs of our society.



The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in March this year, heads off such an outcome. It states that planning should not "simply be about scrutiny, but instead be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which people live their lives." This should include "identifying key sites which are critical to the delivery of a housing strategy."


In short, planning should be about planning. It should be a process of seeking out opportunities, especially for the delivery of housing, where we all know there is a shortfall in the South East. It should not be a regime of environmental policing that seeks to qualify or quash every attempt to enhance our built environment by the sustainable development of new homes.


I fear that in much of the South East we have engendered just such a regime; suspicious of the private sector and diluting its energy, obsessed by the pre-eminence of environmental interests and confused as to the gain to be attributed to the public realm. A regime resistant to change, strangled by red tape and regulation. A regime whose priorities are preposterous, promoting the lowest common denominator and ignoring our wider aspirations. Yet, this is the blunt instrument that administers planning policy and is the arbiter of every application to change and enhance our environment.


Sustainable development is the key. It is that which provides for the needs of our society without compromising the needs of future generations. Does this mean we should do nothing? Is our legacy to be a sterile landscape within our  built environment, ill-equipped to deal with the housing needs and aspirations of the generations which follow?


Planning should again become a positive process, driven by aspiration as well as the need to provide for future generations. It should seek the inclusion of renewable energy sources in new buildings. It can promote inclusive design and the special needs of the elderly and disabled. It should promote the freedom of architects to create buildings that have traditionally been sources of delight and wonder. 


We have the ability to create the homes that our current and future communities will need. What we lack is the confidence to go forward and seek such change. However, we must embrace change and plan for our future generations. For  King Lear, it was his  obsession to control that  brought about their division, resentment and contempt.

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