In the spotlight: Marianne Barker
Name: Marianne Barker
Job title: Partner
Area of expertise: Planning law
Has worked at Clarke Willmott since: March 2022
1. What do you enjoy most in your role as a planning lawyer?
Planning is a very interesting and topical industry. Planners can improve overall quality of life and enhance a sense of place and this gives me a sense of purpose which is important to me on a personal level. Politics, market drivers, socio-economics and the green agenda all play a critical role in planning so there’s a huge amount of variety to my job and I get to work alongside a very diverse professional team of people.
As a planning lawyer I am involved in both contentious issues (appeal work, judicial reviews) and non-contentious instructions (drafting complex section 106 agreements, advising on permitted development rights, CIL, green belt or heritage issues) and I enjoy this mix of work.
As a Partner, I am often called on to provide strategic advice where I need to balance competing interests and work with the grey areas inherent in our system. The planning process is also notoriously complex and I enjoy the challenge of navigating major schemes through the process, identifying and overcoming roadblocks and dealing with complex technical issues. I also enjoy a lively debate and planning is fertile ground for this e.g. should we encroach on the Green Belt to deliver housing or not.
2. What are the current challenges in the planning industry?
One of the major challenges for developer clients is the planning process itself and the time it takes to secure a planning consent. This is often due to a lack of resourcing within local authority planning teams and the planning inspectorate and this is something that really needs to be addressed. The planning system is also hugely complex and multi-layered, many would say it is not very user friendly.
There will always be the challenge of delivering quality, sustainable development in a commercially viable way. However in my view the biggest challenge is the competing priorities inherent in the system. On the one hand, we are acutely aware of the need to deliver more housing, especially affordable housing, so there is a drive to a more efficient planning system that delivers consents – and housing – more quickly. However this has to be balanced with public participation and the need to deliver quality, sustainable development in the right places. How to marry these competing interests is, in my view, always going to be the greatest challenge for those involved in our industry. Take the use of permitted development rights from commercial use to residential. There’s no doubt that this type of deregulation contributes to housing stock. However is this at the cost of quality homes and does the process undermine local accountability and limit councils ability to manage development on behalf of their communities? Answers on a postcard!
3. Where are the opportunities?
I think the Local Plan system is central to helping unlocking land for housing and development and I welcome the opportunities in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to facilitate adoption of up-to-date local plans. There are also real opportunities to digitise the system with technological innovation that has developed over the last couple of years. A digitised system should make Local Plans more accessible and easier to understand which would benefit all stakeholders in the planning process. As our economy emerges from an extraordinary two years, there are also real opportunities for repurposing at the moment. I am really enjoying engaging with the development industry at the moment as they look to revitalise the high street, incorporate the circular economy and the green agenda and deliver a broad range of housing that meets the needs of everyone, including the social housing and later living sectors.