Well said, planning lawyer Stephen Ashworth! His call for the planning profession to cut down on paper overload in this week’s Planning magazine is a point well made.
The argument that Stephen puts forward in his article is simple:
Planning is overwhelmed by unnecessary information. Decisions are often delayed by the need to plough through paper that will never, and should never, have any influence on the eventual decision.
The effect of this mountain of paper is delay, extra cost to the public purse, and damage to the reputations of the planning profession and local government. But of course it can be all too easy for us human beings, whether we’re for or against development, to produce or demand extra information – rather than just accept or defend a decision on the basis of the fundamental issues.
Stephen also provide some practical suggestions on how we should cut down on information: excluding certain kinds of development plan policies, and cutting certain kinds of information out of sustainability appraisals, for example. Coming from a respected planning lawyer, one would expect that these suggestions are pretty robust.
And the fact that the author is an insider, within the planning profession’s ranks, gives his arguments all the more weight. A cynic would say that producing planning paperwork is what keeps planning lawyers like Stephen (and consultants like me) in business.
The other side of the coin is that, if even we are arguing that decision-making should be simplified, we must believe it. As Stephen says,
A cultural change is needed. Decisions can and should be taken with less but more relevant information. Doing so will require courage and a willingness to work on the basis of the key issues.
Let’s all do our bit to simplify the system. Focus on the issues that really matter, rather than blind ourselves with unnecessary detail. We owe it to the public and the environment.