24th July 2020
New report places planning at heart of COVID-19 recovery

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the government recently took steps to make certain changes to the planning system in order to boost the recovery of the construction industry. To read more about these changes, which included the extension of planning permission deadlines and other adjustments to speed up the planning appeal process, read our previous blog.

Now, the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS), has released a report entitled Plan the World We Need, which urges governments to involve planners not just in the construction industry’s recovery, but in every aspect of the national recovery from the outbreak.

“Sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery”

The pandemic, the report argues, has exposed existing vulnerabilities and weaknesses across the built environment, with the gaps between successful and struggling places visibly widening over the past few months.  These issues include the disproportionate impact of the disease on vulnerable, minority and deprived groups, the uneven economic impact of the crisis on certain business sectors and industries, the difficulties involved in reallocating road space to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, and potential delays to progress towards the government’s sustainability targets.

The report concludes that the expertise of planning professionals must be at the heart of the nation’s recovery process, in order to resolve these weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

An opportunity to tackle climate change

With just 30 years left before the 2050 deadline for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, RICS’ report places significant emphasis on a sustainable and green recovery. Failing to act now, it argues, will lead to the risk of unmanageable climate and ecological breakdown in the future. In this, the study agrees with the annual report to parliament recently made by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which urges ministers to seize the opportunity to transform the COVID-19 recovery into a “historic turning point” in the fight against the global climate crisis.

The CCC’s study identifies a range of planning investment priorities to guide a green recovery, including:

  • Low carbon retrofits and buildings primed for the future
  • Tree planting and green infrastructure
  • Strengthening energy networks for the net-zero energy transformation
  • Infrastructure that facilitates walking, cycling and remote work

RICS makes very similar recommendations in its report, and adds that skills, training and job growth in green industries should be supported, while investments in and bailouts of companies that contradict these goals should be avoided.

Tackling inequality

During the pandemic, the revelation that individuals from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities had been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic made shocking reading, with black individuals almost twice as likely to die from the virus. The reasons for this are complex, RICS says, but issues relating to the built environment, such as living in polluted areas and poor-quality housing and neighbourhoods, are likely to play a significant role.

Planning has its role to play here as well, with RICS and many other organisations and bodies calling for a strong focus on social justice during the COVID-19 recovery. Planning is instrumental in improving the quality of existing homes and buildings, and delivering high quality, affordable housing in the areas that most need them. Concern for sustainability and the environment should also embedded into all new construction projects.

A silver lining?

If there is any silver lining to the COVID-19 crisis, is that it has brought about a massive change of perspective regarding the issues most in need of correction within our society. The climate change crisis, which has long lingered on the margins of government agenda, has now been pushed to the forefront of its priorities, while the crisis has also done much to highlight the significant inequalities still suffered by vulnerable groups simply because of the location in which they live. Planners now have the opportunity to remake the country into a better, stronger and more equal version of itself as we recover from the devastation of the past few months.

To read RICS’ full report, you can download the PDF here.