Meeting to shape our built environment


KEY TAKEAWAYS REPORT – Roundtable: Planning in transition

Roundtable:  Planning in transition – adapting to the new planning systems – from development management to policy development 

Wednesday 21 July 2021


This roundtable explored the opportunities and challenges of the proposed transformation of the planning system, as set out in the Government White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’. Delivering reform will require new ways of working, the use of new technology, and a rethink of the traditional structures within planning departments. Participants discussed the emphasis on design coding, especially in relation to the challenges we face when making plans. This promoted a discussion about skills and resources, and a recognition of the scale of the challenge of delivering planning reform in Kent & Medway. Throughout the discussion we often returned to the question of to what extent the proposed changes would help the public and private sectors deliver well designed places.

The Roundtable was chaired by Design South East Director, Chris Lamb, using the Chatham House rule.

The discussion opened with a short talk by Adrian Penfold OBE. Adrian sits on the Advisory Board for the Office for Place, supporting the use of the National Model Design Code across selected communities in England. His presentation to the roundtable reflected on design quality in planning, both as it stands and as it could be in the future. He also introduced the National Model Design Code, and framed its importance with a review of design training within the planning system,

Key takeaways

Resources need to match ambition

Planning departments are already struggling with a lack of resources. Yes, the proposed changes have the potential to reduce caseloads and improve the efficiency of the planning system, but only if the plan-making and compliance processes envisaged by Government are properly resourced.

Clarity and certainty could benefit all

As it stands, the discretionary-based planning system that we have is fraught with risk, and this in turn leads to increased costs for developers. A rule-based planning system, underpinned by design codes, and with the requirement for code compliance, could improve clarity and provide greater certainty.

Owning the product and the process

Developing design codes for local planning authorities could become big business for consultants. But if codes are outsourced, the opportunity for capacity building is lost. A more positive approach is that authorities produce and manage codes themselves, with external expertise used only to structure and support the process.

Front-loading and consultation as opportunities

Investing more in the plan-making and design coding process – including the role of communities in shaping their places – has the potential to be transformative in terms of design quality. For this to happen, there needs to be a commitment to engaging communities by the public and private sectors and a transformation of the process so that local people are fully involved in the development of codes and in plan making from the outset.

In summary, it will be difficult, but not impossible, for us to adapt to a new planning system, but this would be made substantially easier with the right resources in place now.


Brian Horton, Horton Strategic / Chris Lamb, Design South East / Dave Harris, Medway Council / Garry Hall, Design South East / Guy Hollaway, Hollaway Studio / Ian Hardman, Pentland Homes / James Bailey, Maidstone Borough Council / Karen Britton, Canterbury City Council / Kate Goldie, BPTW / Lucy Wilford, Barton Wilmore / Michael Walters, Corstorphine + Wright / Nichola Watters, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council / Nick Fenton, Kent Housing & Development Group / Oliver Dann, Kent County Council 

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