The world as we knew it has changed, will it ever go back to being how it was before Covid? I don’t think anyone can really say.
Certainly, when you look at how the world changed and adapted after the Spanish Flu outbreak in the late 1910’s, it certainly didn’t slide back to the same way it was before.
The economy will change, work will change, how we interact as a society will change and Planning must play its part in the change. But how and are radical reforms the best way forward?
“Now that is the million-dollar question!” remarked Simon McFarlane. Simon has over 17 years of experience and has an extensive background in Planning, seeing the industry from both sides of the fence.
Covering large projects from both the private and public sectors, Simon is well-placed and well-informed to give his opinion on what Planning needs to do to evolve and help the wider recovery.
“It’s a delicate thing to consider, do you completely switch out the Planning system, and introduce wholesale changes, which could involve the introduction of a zoning system, and a lengthily period of change, uncertainty, and transition, or do you tweak, perfect and properly fund the current system we have?” Simon continued to say.
Simon is correct, it is a delicate thing to think about. Boris Johnson has already spoken about how he wants to bring about a raft of changes to Planning and bring about “the most radical reforms to our Planning system since the second world war”. But where to start?
The consensus from inside the industry seems to be “fund the system properly and modernize it”.
This would involve pumping money into the existing system, making sure that councils were well-staffed, productive, and have the tools to do their job properly, and not working on antiquated computers and on systems that are getting on to be 10 years old in some cases.
The RTPI has published a document stating that Planning needs to have a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive recovery. This means, for example, investing in smart-energy grids, advancing standards for new developments so that anything built is of excellent quality, and accelerating progress towards zero carbon emissions for the industry.
It also means that new developments must be future-proofed against a variety of environmental impacts such as flooding, the industry has a duty to plant more trees and increase the amount of multi-function urban green spaces.
Lastly, there needs to be an emphasis on, creating healthy equitable places by targeting support to the most vulnerable in society.
Now for me, this all starts with one place.
The High Street
It’s no secret that the High Street is dying, more and shops are being closed and they are no longer the thriving community hubs they once were. In 2018 a record of 2,481 shops shut their doors. It is my opinion that these areas need to have particular attention focused on them. With house prices and private rents on large cities becoming higher and higher there is a growing need for more rural areas to develop.
A particular success story has been Margate. A thriving seaside resort in the early 20th century, the town suffered from the rise of cheap airfares as people increasingly holidayed abroad. The arrival of the Turner Contemporary Gallery in 2011 is seen as the catalyst for a series of events that have helped change the fortunes of the town. Between 2013 and 2016, the number of creative businesses registered in the district rose by 84% and this growth has helped pull people out of London to the area.
This creative makeover cannot be a one-off, our high streets must become community spaces again, for every new development in an area it is so vital to incorporate a community element. Developers and Councils must work together on this!
Community gardens, parks, nature reserves, bike trails, and support centres, are all things that need to be incorporated into our high streets. Going even further, as Margate has done, why can’t every new development have some kind of cultural venue built? From something as simple as a village hall to a new theatre, we cannot simply build houses and create soul-less housing estates.
Luckily, there is a scheme to make this happen.
The Future High Streets Fund has been brought into life in order to “help high streets adapt and evolve.. while remaining vibrant places for their community”. This scheme allocates £1 billion worth of funding to 101 areas that need it and this along with other reforms will hopefully bring life back to communities and if done properly will ensure that the Country’s recovery is sustainable, resilient, and inclusive post-Covid.
The funding could be used to improve transport and access into town centres, convert empty retail units into new homes and workplaces. Boris Johnson said “Our high streets are right at the heart of our communities, and I will do everything I can to make sure they remain vibrant places where people want to go, meet and spend their money”.
The scheme was launched in December 2018 and is a key part of the Government’s plan to renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that drives economic growth and sustainably improves living standards. Only time will tell whether this was a worthwhile investment, however, I think this is a great scheme and one I’m sure will pay dividends!