The new BBC2 series on Thursday evenings runs for eight weeks throughout February and March and if the first episode is anything to go by there is lots of entertainment to be had watching ‘The Planners’ in coming weeks. The show features a handful of different situations and, taking the planners’ perspective, shows how decisions are arrived at and the impact of the process on the homeowners, applicants and affected parties.
It’s great telly. It features the kind of small-town figures that are, as one Twitter observer put it, a kind of Little Britain parody of people who hold those positions. The planners themselves came across pretty well, struggling to find a balance between competing arguments, slightly up in the air over planning reform, and generally qualified, reasonable people. Applicants and objectors, as you might expect, came across at times unhinged, emotional and hopelessly myopic.
Nothing revelatory there. But then we come to the planning committee who, as most of Twitter agreed, were the undoubted highlights of the show, not least our hero Barbara, a terrifying senior member of the committee who seemed, despite her protestations and stickler-for-the-rules mentality, did seem to take her role a little too seriously. Throughout the show we were treated to various scenes of the bus-full of the planning committee members heading out to site visits, like a pensioners’ day trip to Margate, full of inane comments and homespun and often incorrect planning ‘wisdom’. Ultimately these 15 locals were to decide on the key decisions and cast their vote with such an arbitrary nature that one wondered if any of them had, in the cold light of day, considered the application against relevant planning law (as they should) and not simply on some sort of personal whim.
These people were not experts in building, architecture or, worst of all, planning. And yet, as The Planners shows, they hold the keys to unlocking our housebuilding future. And for anyone interested in seeing us get the homes we need in the UK, that is monumentally depressing.
After an hour on BBC2, I’m left more convinced than ever that we need not just changes to planning law, but a radical overhaul of the planning system. We need to put our future in the hands of qualified experts, not a bus-full of oldies enjoying a day out.