Skills boost for planning authorities to create better neighbourhoods

Skills boost for planning authorities to create better neighbourhoods

More skilled planning professionals will be recruited by councils following a £1m funding boost from the Government, announced by the Housing Minister.

Social enterprise Public Practice will use the money to help councils recruit and develop skilled planners, increase awareness about careers in local government and share best practice around improving communities in the public sector.

The money will help councils attract and develop those in the profession leading to higher skilled jobs, speed up property development and create better neighbourhoods that people are proud to call home.

Minister for Housing and Planning Rachel Maclean said: “Planning plays such an important role in shaping our neighbourhoods, making sure we have the right housing and infrastructure to level up the nation.

“It is essential that our planning authorities have the skills and resources they need and today’s funding will make sure the sector is better equipped to deliver a quality service for local communities.”

Pooja Agrawal, CEO of Public Practice, commented: “Planning and placemaking is one of local government’s most important functions as it shapes the places we all live in, work and visit. However, it is clear that local authorities have substantial skills gaps which hinders the ability of developers and councils to deliver good quality new and refurbished homes, sustainable public spaces or accessible town centres and high streets.

“We are grateful to the Department of Levelling Up for this funding. We have a proud track record of bringing private sector planning and placemaking talent into local authorities and helping them to forge long-term careers in the public sector.

“Now is not the time to rest on our laurels but to re-double our efforts. We have a mission to help every council in England to find the skilled planners and place professionals they need to make communities and neighbourhoods better across our nation.”

The Government recently published a consultation on increases to planning fees to generate additional income for councils to help deliver and improve planning services, making sure communities have the right infrastructure. This is alongside a wider programme of support and investment in high quality data and digital technology to reduce the administrative burdens on local planning authorities and support faster more efficient decision-making.

Public Practice has attracted more than 2,500 applications to its placement programme over the past five years, 92% of whom have been working outside the public sector. Some 73% of applicants have never worked in the public sector and 53% have never previously applied for a job in the public sector.

Nine-tenths of Public Practice Associates have chosen to continue working in the public sector following the conclusion of the year-long programme. The not-for-profit social enterprise has a mission to rebuild skills and capacity in the public sector to help improve places and communities across England.

Rob Perrins, Chief Executive of Berkeley Group, said:  “The planning system is the gateway to investment in local communities and has a huge and lasting impact on people’s health, wellbeing and life chances.

“However we are deeply concerned about the capacity and skills challenges faced by local authorities. We need to make the planning system much more efficient, especially on brownfield regeneration sites. That’s why we’re delighted Public Practice continues to grow and support the high-quality planning and placemaking services our town and cities need.”

Public Practice Autumn 2022 Cohort. Photo by Fiona Finchett

Paul Karakusevic, Founding Partner at Karakusevic Carson Architects, commented: “There is a genuine skills crisis in design and placemaking positions in councils across England. We need the public sector and the private sector to work in partnership if we are going to solve this skills crisis.

“Having been involved with Public Practice since the early days, we are delighted to see this pioneering initiative spreading across the country. Public Practice will be able to assist authorities across England to build capacity to meet the pressing needs of delivering social and affordable housing, refurbishing old housing stock to meet the needs of the next generation and tackle the climate challenge. Better resourcing for the early design advice and project coordination services in councils would provide excellent value for money across the country and enable new homes to be built more quickly.

“The recent track record of the local authorities across the South East which have built in-house capacity in planning, placemaking and regeneration in partnership with Public Practice has demonstrated local government can deliver the most successful neighbourhoods and the best housing.

“A new era of well designed and well built council housing needs an equally ambitious investment in council place departments across the country in order to meet its full potential in improving people’s lives.”

Roy Pinnock, Partner at Dentons, said: “The single most urgent priority for planning in England is the skills and capacity gap afflicting local authorities. Research has shown that compared to the average European country, Britain has a backlog of more than four million homes that are missing from the national housing market as they were never built.

“Further research by the National Housing Federation published last year shows we need to build 340,000 new homes a year in England until 2031 to meet the needs of our population including 145,000 new affordable homes.

“If the skills and capacity gap within councils is not sorted developers cannot build the homes which people in Britain need, nor the low carbon industrial and office buildings we require.

“Public Practice helps to address the skills shortage by bringing talented planning and placemaking professionals from the private sector into councils. We need to invest in solutions like this if we are serious about solving the national housing crisis.”

Header image: Public Practice Autumn 2022 Cohort Workshop. Photo by Fiona Finchett.

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