Which came first? The Planner or the Chicken

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Which came first? The Planner or the Chicken

When McDonalds decided to introduce Chicken McNuggets 40 years ago, they had a problem. (Please read on – I’ll get to the point in a minute).

Their demand for chicken would be so great that it would send the price through the roof. So, they set out to ensure that they could fix the price of chickens.

So, it is with planners and other subjects related to the built environment. As the planning system (I hesitate to call it that) gets more complex and the demands get greater – like 300,000 new homes a year, eight nuclear power stations and partridge in a pear tree – then obviously we need more and more planners and the like.

Well, the chicken factories are doing their bit, according to the statistics (hate them) from HESA the Higher Education Student Statistics Agency. They lump architecture, building and planning into one category ominously called Column 13.

Over the past eight years, there has been almost a 50% rise in this category from 43,355 to 62,635. But obviously it is still not enough as any Head of Planning in any local authority, developer or consultancy will tell you. So how do we get more young people interested in this area? Here is a couple of ideas:

  1. There needs to be a bit of joined-up government between the Department of Education and MULGH. There is little point in producing more graduates in the liberal arts to the detriment of technical subjects. There should be a subsidy for students in those areas. Sure, there will be squeals from non-technical people, but a degree is fashion design (University of Westminster) will not fix the housing crisis.
  2. Developers of all disciplines are going through a boom period. So why don’t the major housebuilders, say, all sponsor, say 100 – or 500 – students each provided (a) they study planning and (b) they join the company on graduation and stay for at least three years. There are lots of precedents of this.
  3. The system. There is no point is having a plan-led system if there is no plan. The Housing Minister can only jump into a few. Earlier this year, a House of Lords cross-party report pointed to the ‘evolving crisis’ in the planning system. With no disrespect it has now fully matured.
  4. Job satisfaction. I’m not picking on Basildon, but it has had a local plan in gestation for eight years at a cost of millions of pounds. But, following a change of administration, it is now back to the drawing board. How dispiriting is that? This is rife. After eight years toiling at a plan only to see it in the shredder must be soul-destroying. Personally, I would come home and either (a) kick the cat or (b) have a blazing row with my partner or (c) quit.

Unless we address the major problem at source, i.e., the lack of planners, then the chickens will come home to roost if they haven’t done so already.

Have a great Easter break.

Tom