The head of Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) ponders the role planners play in development, following Architecture & Design’s “Planning: a blight on progress” article last week…

Planners can’t win, Neil Savery, president of the PIA argues. Too fast and they’re accused of laissez-faire development; too thoughtful and they’re accused of emotional planning. But a world without planning would be “all hell let loose” he muses.

“Planners are stuck between environmental and development lobbies, between two arguing neighbours who use the planning system as a vehicle to frustrate each other, between two competitors that want to prevent each other’s development,” Savery said. “That’s the nature of planning; you’re constantly in the middle.”

A sad plight, that of the planner. But the planning system itself is far from perfect, he said. “You do get a proliferation of regulation that hasn’t necessarily been tested in terms of its cost impacts,” Savery concedes “along with repetition, duplication and inconsistency, often by virtue of a road being a dividing boundary between two councils.”

But planners are advocates for change as much as anyone else, Savery says. Savery is keen to point out that planners per se are not to blame for the hegemony. The planning system is not developed by planners to blight architects and developers but is the “creation of communities and political processes… ultimately influenced by the whims of communities and local politicians,” he says.

The current hotch-potch, or “proliferation”, of rules is undergoing review by a group comprising of the PIA, the Planning Officials Group and ALGA to “reign in” the system, says Savery.

The Local Government and Planning Ministers’ Council is looking at developing uniform codes across the country.

The PIA is publishing its Planning Report Card 2008 next week. In the report, planners nationally assess their own performances under 12 key criteria, including growth management, public participation, governance and streamlined assessment, with the aim of improving the processes.

In the current world financial crisis, against the backdrop of politicians saying “This was a failure of regulation”, we should see the warning signs, says Savery. “Let’s be careful about saying don’t want any regulation in the planning system — it could be equally damaging.”