PINS and Needles: Red pill or blue pill?

For those of you know or work in the planning system, you may be aware of the Planning Inspectorate; colloquially abbreviated to PINS.  They perform an important role; providing people with the opportunity to contend decisions made by their local planning committee, and testing the long term growth plans of councils (known as local plans).

The official agents of the Planning Inspectorate are Planning Inspectors; a title I will admit I find awe-inspiring and pretty damn cool.  It spurs images of Agent Smith in The Matrix, and a mere mention of PINS makes me want to cram a whole handful of red pills down my neck and escape the fake reality of “locally led” planning decisions.

Unfortunately, the real world of PINS is not so exciting (either that or I took a blue pill a while back).  This isn’t to say their decisions aren’t significant or professionally stimulating – poor choice of words I know – but their process fails to capture the imagination.   To take a slight detour here, you may remember the rhetoric of the reforms to our planning regulations back in 2010.  On the back of localism, we were told that it should be easier for everyone to get involved in the big decisions that shape their town, their village, their community.

PINS didn’t get the message.  As a layperson I couldn’t imagine anything more alien or intimidating than participating at one their inquiries or examinations.  I am a trained professional and still find the ordeal quite abstract.  Obviously, there is a due process that Inspectors must follow.  They must ensure they consider every piece of evidence and every view point put to them properly.   Yet I can’t help but feel the way in which hearings are conducted puts people off.  We read in the press that we are in a housing crisis – young people can’t afford to move out; the elderly can’t downsize; there isn’t enough student housing.  These matters don’t only affect people’s day to day lives – they are fundamental.

So where is the young couple living with mum and dad?  Why aren’t students participating and voicing their concerns?  Where are all the people who join those Facebook groups that moan about new houses, lack of shops and creaking infrastructure (you know the groups I am on about)?

I can’t outline the problem and a suggestion in one post, but I think PINS can be doing more.  It is time that these important events stopped being bureaucratic blue pills, and started to be more understandable and interactive.

Wanting more?  Is the anticipation of the next blog giving you pins and needles?  Don’t worry this is just my first in a series of blogs about the Planning Inspectorate!

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