Creative planning by Pete Murphy

This week's story from the Change the Ending Collection is an ideal view of how the planning system might work - it's rare to read something so short, articulate and hopeful about the planning system. Really interesting.


Creative Planning

A fresh September morning and two weeks in France had made Diana eager to get back to work. She loved being first into the quiet development control office and settled at her desk, determined to make a dent in the applications backlog. She scanned the files, opening the folder for the former mental hospital site on the city’s northern edge.

She’d nearly given up after ten years of the previous appeal-based system, but since the new Planning Act, all publicly owned land and buildings surplus to requirements had to pass through the local planning authority. Her job was to establish the contribution the proposals would make to the local community’s future health and wellbeing. Public interest was now firmly at the centre of considerations and although this made the task more complex and challenging, it also brought more innovation and creativity into the process.

Diana was optimistic. Proposals for developing large sites now had to be accompanied by an evaluation of the long-term social returns on investment, an environmental contextualisation assessment and, crucially, evidence of open and transparent consultations with neighbours and local community interests.

Two sets of proposals would be good, to stimulate creative competition from developers and generate local interest. Anticipation building, she clicked on the initial proposals folders and was delighted to find proposals from four local developer consortiums.

All had potential occupiers and included mixed use, sustainable housing, accompanied by, variously, a nursery, school, domestic violence refuge, hospice and further education facility for adults with mental health issues associated with a commercial flower-growing operation that Diana recognised as a successful local business that had outgrown its current site.

Time for a quick cup of tea before making a comparative assessment. She clicked on the revised proposals folder to see if there were any later submissions and was rewarded with two new files. The developers had clearly been talking to each other, the statutory consultees and local community groups. The four original consortiums had skilfully merged into two new teams without compromising the overall integrity of their schemes. Four had gone into two. Could two go into one, she wondered?


Pete Murphy is both a planner a former Local Authority Chief Executive with an unquentable belief in the potential of planning to improve our environments. He lives and works in Nottingham and despiteproducing innumerable planning reports, this is his first attempt at fiction. 

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