At the Town and Country Planning Association's annual conference last week, it became increasingly clear to me that the government's planning reforms in general - and the abolition of S106 agreements in particular - risk real harm to the long term management of communities.
The "stewardship" of new developments, as it has become known, involves the management and maintenance of all the land and facilities produced around individual homes - grass verges, playgrounds, parks, community centres, sustainable drainage systems, and occasionally commercial properties and even lakes! All of these assets need long term care and investment so that the new neighbourhood is still, 25 years down the line, somewhere that people want to live.
Over recent years, local authorities have been less and less willing to take these assets on, seeing them as a drain on already stretched resources. So stewardship, the mechanisms for setting it up, funding it, and ensuring that developers contribute for the long term, has become a key aspect of S106 agreement negotiations.
But if those negotiations are replaced or "streamlined" by a standard infrastructure levy, then how will planning authorities ensure that stewardship arrangements are in place? How will they be able to get developers round the table to plan the long term future of new villages or towns?
In the local context of major sites being rolled out, this kind of granular, focussed discussion varies so much from place to place. Detailed arrangements need to be hammered out at the planning stage, otherwise crucial opportunities for the long term can be lost. Stewardship must form part of the broader conversation about how development builds communities, not just buildings.
Whatever the issues with the planning system currently - and no one last week was suggesting that it is perfect - reform must not damage the long term health of the places that we live, or the places that we build.
The White Paper states the reforms attempt to rebuild trust in the planning system and promote good design. While these aspirations are important, we are concerned that they are not supported by the specific proposals set out in the White Paper. Instead, the specific proposals focus on streamlining processes and removing key opportunities for participation like the right to be heard in person at planning inquires.