In this blog, you will learn:

  • What the current challenges for the planning sector are.
  • How the planning sector can overcome these challenges.
  • Where the latest planning jobs are and how to apply for them. 

The built environment is continuously evolving and as population dynamics shift, the UK planning sector must navigate a myriad of challenges, from policy complexities, to implications stemming from the housing crisis.

In our latest blog, we’re exploring the current challenges facing the planning sector and what planning professionals can do to overcome these challenges. 

What are the current challenges that the planning sector is facing?

The planning sector is currently experiencing a number of challenges that must be navigated successfully in order to deliver effective urban regeneration. These challenges include:

  • The housing crisis.
  • Climate change.
  • Digital transformation.
  • Complexities with policies.
  • A demanding workload.

The housing crisis

The UK has been tackling a shortage of affordable housing for a while now, particularly in highly sought after areas for living such as London and the South East of England. 

Local authorities are struggling to balance urban concerns, infrastructure strain and environmental impact with meeting their housing targets. 

For example, The London Plan 2021 oversees the Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London. The plan is responsible for providing a framework for the development of London over the next 20-25 years.

Individual boroughs of London must generally conform with the London plan in order to ensure that the capital's planning system reflects the overall strategy for sustainable development within the city. 

Within the plan, it is stated that boroughs should ensure that ten-year housing targets are achieved by preparing delivery-focussed Development Plans. These plans must ‘allocate an appropriate range and number of sites that are suitable for residential and mixed-use development and intensification’. 

As well as the planning sector being under pressure to meet housing targets from schemes, such as The London Plan, the housing crisis also causes a number of other implications for Planners

On top of having to navigate between the need for more housing and concerns for the environment that this evokes, Planners are also faced with limited land opportunities. Within densely populated places such as London, finding suitable land to house new developments is proving to be a challenge as planning professionals must guarantee that new housing developments will integrate seamlessly with existing infrastructure.

Climate change

Climate change poses significant challenges for the planning profession and the need to integrate sustainable practices, such as promoting renewable energy and low-carbon development, is more important than ever.

The UK government has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the planning profession will play an instrumental part in this, by integrating climate change considerations into their planning decisions. 

In order to effectively meet the UK government's target, local authorities are implementing policies such as requiring new developments to adhere to strict energy efficiency standards.

In the meantime however, climate change continues to cause complexities within planning processes. 

For example, understanding the risks and potential implications of climate change, such as increased flood risks, requires expert knowledge of climate science and modelling. Interpreting and applying this knowledge is essential for Planners to make informed decisions about land use and infrastructure, however a lack of understanding can result in misguided choices and in turn cause challenges for Planners.

Planning recruitment specialist, Joel Khambay says, “The uncertainty surrounding climate change and what the future holds can make long-term planning challenging for planning professionals.”

Joel continues, “Trying to anticipate future climate risks and incorporate flexibility for these risks might make Planners feel as though they have less control when making important planning decisions.”

Climate change also presents challenges with competing priorities for the planning sector. On one hand Planners are responsible for ensuring successful economic development throughout the UK, however, they must also ensure that environmental conservation and sustainable activity remain at the forefront of their practices. 

Ensuring that none of these factors are compromised and that economic development and sustainable practices go hand in hand, can cause additional pressure for Planners who have targets to meet and projects to complete to a deadline.

Digital transformation

Like with a number of industries, the planning sector is undergoing significant digital transformation, in order to enhance efficiency and streamline processes. Moving from paper-based processes to digital platforms, such as Geographic Information Systems used for spatial analysis and mapping, has been vital for ensuring that the planning sector keeps up with advancements in technology. However, this has not been without its challenges for Planners.

For instance, the Planning Portal is an online platform used to submit planning applications and access planning information across England and Wales. Planners who make use of this platform are able to streamline their application process, improve accessibility for applicants and decrease the amount of paperwork related to a project.

However, despite digital platforms like the Planning Portal being of benefit within the sector, digital transformation has also caused complexities for Planners.

Implementing digital platforms requires reliable technological infrastructure, including compatible hardware, software and a secure internet connection. 

Planners must ensure that robust IT systems are in place in order to effectively utilise digital platforms, however technology can be temperamental and should there be an issue, this could be detrimental to the outcome of planning processes. 

With planning decisions relying heavily on accurate data regarding land use, infrastructure and the demographics of an area, faulty digital technology could lead to inaccuracies in data analysis, which might result in flawed planning decisions.

Digital transformation also requires Planners to possess digital skills and expertise. In 2023, the Royal Town Planning Institute began collaborating with the Scottish Government to support the delivery of a digital skills development programme

The aim of this programme is to showcase how digital technology can enhance the planning profession and to give Planners the confidence to embed digital approaches within their work. 

Complexities with policies

Complexities within industry policies can cause big challenges for planning professionals. 

The regulatory framework within the UK planning sector is continuously evolving which means changes in national policies and legislation must be kept up with. 

Planners must be able to adapt their practices accordingly in order to ensure that regulatory compliance is upheld. 

However, adjusting to changes within the regulatory framework can be time consuming and with planning policies often varying between local authorities across the UK, this can also cause confusion for planning professionals.

Not only can variation from one local authority to the next cause confusion, it can also lead to inconsistencies for Planners who work across multiple jurisdictions and therefore require them to navigate multiple different frameworks. 

Local authorities are responsible for developing their own local plans that are used to outline their approach to development and land use. Environmental considerations and economic needs play a big part influencing a local authorities plans and whilst one local authority might prioritise urban regeneration, another might give precedence to green belt protection. 

Joel Khambay says, “These variations can cause complications for Planners because conflicting government objectives mean planning professionals might have to juggle different priorities and sometimes politically sensitive requirements.”

In order to overcome the challenges of differing policies, the planning sector must encourage streamlined collaboration between government agencies, local authorities, communities and other stakeholders. 

Coherent and integrated planning strategies are key for balancing competing interests and promoting sustainable development alongside urban regeneration.

A demanding workload

As documented in the Royal Town Planning Institute’s State of the Profession report, in 2022, a survey of 209 Welsh Planners was conducted to discover more about mental wellbeing and working conditions within the planning sector.

The results of the survey concluded that those working for local planning authorities felt overstretched ‘several or more times a week’.

The findings also highlighted that 50% of respondents ‘encounter time crunches at least periodically’ and that most people cited ‘lack of staff resources’ as the reason for this, with employees frequently covering for missing staff.

Planning departments frequently experience high workloads, especially within areas undergoing significant development. The constant demand for planning services coupled with a lack of staff resources, can exceed the capacity of existing staff and lead to burnout for planning professionals. However, a high workload is not the only factor for a shortage of Planners in the UK. Budget cuts and the number of experienced Planners retiring over recent years has led to difficulties within recruiting and retaining new talent.

In order to ease the pressure on existing Planners, it is vital that the sector does more to get younger generations interested in planning.

How can the planning sector overcome these challenges?

In order to effectively overcome the challenges currently facing the planning sector, it’s vital that planning professionals adopt a multifaceted approach and make a concerted effort to address issues such as the housing crisis, climate change and digital transformation. 

The housing crisis for instance will require strategies to increase housing supply, utilise brownfield development, which involves building on sites previously used for industrial or commercial purposes, incentivise affordable housing and collaborate with housing associations. 

In order to competently tackle challenges surrounding climate change, the planning sector is responsible for promoting and actioning low-carbon development. For example, the Beddington Zero Energy Development, situated in the London Borough of Sutton, is a mixed-use sustainable community created to achieve zero carbon emissions.

The development consists of energy-efficient building design and renewable energy technologies to meet its low-carbon target and demonstrates how planning can prioritise environmental challenges and prioritise sustainability as well as quality of life.

To overcome climate change challenges, the planning sector should also continue to prioritise climate-compatible policies and develop resilience plans to ensure strategies are in place to mitigate the complexities that climate change is currently causing for the sector.

When it comes to addressing the demanding nature of the sector and the pressure that planning professionals encounter in order to complete heavy workloads, effective resource allocation and workforce development are key.

Whilst digital transformation has created some challenges for the planning sector, tools such as Geographic Information Systems are an efficient way to automate and streamline planning processes and therefore ease the pressure on planning professionals. 

Planning jobs

If you’re searching for your next interim planning job, why not take a look at the latest vacancies, or simply upload your CV to be notified when a relevant position becomes available. 

Who is Spencer Clarke Group?

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