What does Brexit mean for Planning and Planners?

Richard Blyth

Richard Blyth
Head of Policy, RTPI

It is too early to understand yet what the full long and short term impacts of the EU referendum result will be on the planning profession, in terms of its work and the legal and economic context in which it operates. We know that economic confidence has taken a severe shock which has implications for development, housebuilder share values, Sterling and government revenue. To many in the built environment professions this seems like a depressing rerun of 2008. However there are differences in terms of how the finance industry works and in terms of the wider global economic outlook which may mean extrapolating from a past experience is even less wise this time than usual.

Uncertainty and change have historically slowed down development. Whatever the current economic uncertainty it is imperative we all work to ensure we continue to invest in infrastructure and development to relieve the housing crisis, ensure economic growth and create great places.
To varying degrees planning officers in the UK in both the public and private sectors, employ people with EU (but not UK or Irish) passports. People in this situation are rightly worried about their future in the UK. In this respect the planning profession is in a similar situation to many other sectors of the economy. On the other hand planning consultancy exports have tended to be to emerging economies rather than EU countries, so these may be less affected by uncertain trade arrangements in services.

Many key projects, large and small, in parts of the UK in need of greater economic growth, rely in some part on direct EU funding. Their future is uncertain. Can future governments within the UK make up the difference? One telling finding from the referendum is that sending money to areas which are left behind by the single market and globalisation does not necessarily make them grateful. People want dignity not hand outs. This has unknown implications. Those wishing to cut state spending can say “look it doesn’t even work”. On the other hand those concerned not to abandon whole areas can say “we need different approaches to supporting poorer areas, and Brexit means we can make our own choices on this matter – choices more likely to succeed”.

European funding contributes to research activity particularly collaborative activity including in accredited planning schools. Again, would research be a priority for future governments here when faced with an economic uncertainty and demands from public services?

The influence of the EU on planning practice has been through Directives which are transposed into legislation within the UK nations. These remain law unless the UK parliaments/assemblies remove them. Concern has been expressed about some environmental legislation. As regards wildlife the UK had strong legislation before 1973 and has strong lobbies in support of this. The situation around climate change is arguably more complex.

We will continue to promote the value of planning, whatever the constitutional arrangements and we will continue our campaign to promote the necessity of government and politicians to properly resource planning. Questions have been asked around the future of different parts of the UK. The RTPI is neutral regarding breaking up the UK and planning systems are already entirely uncoupled in the four parts of the current member state.

In his recent speech at the Planning Convention, RTPI President Phil Williams said: “The issues that many people expressed during the EU debate relating to migration and population growth, unaffordable housing, the pressure on health and educational services, the need for economic growth…require planned solutions. In addition, the referendum results highlight the great divisions between the different nations of the UK and the regions of England in terms of their needs and unfulfilled aspirations…”. The RTPI will be revisiting the question of the economic imbalance within England. Our work with IPPR North on the Great North Plan has been a welcome initiation into the task of lighting a spark of spatial thinking among movers and shakers in the North of England community.

The RTPI will be continuing to call on politicians of all parties to access and value the expertise of planners to be able to deliver economically and environmentally sustainable developments that benefit communities; and to avoid the continuance of further legislation and disruption to the planning system, especially at a time of investment uncertainty.

Richard Blyth

Richard Blyth has been Head of Policy and Practice at the RTPI since September 2011. Since then he has established the RTPI’s new policy paper series starting with Housing in 2013 and also the special RTPI Centenary Planning Horizons research programme with 5 projects being published in 2014. Prior to this he was an Associate Director at Capita Symonds where he worked on commissions for local authorities on infrastructure planning to support core strategies, and for a number of private clients on regeneration schemes. He spent over four years in the Civil Service, including being responsible for Local Plans in England. Richard led a small team within the Joint Strategic Planning Unit which produced the last Berkshire Structure Plan and has also worked for district councils on local plans. He spent two years in the Gambia West Africa as a physical planning officer working on physical development plans and market regeneration.

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