13 Mar 2007

Book review: The Planning Game

In recent years, there has been a spate of new books about selfbuild. Many of them have been Me-Too titles, essentially rehashing the same bits of information that the more established books have already covered. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I! But I think what has been lacking has been titles that drill down into the different aspects of the building process, which will arguably be of more value to the consumer. The long-awaited appearance of Ken Dijksman’s The Planning Game sets out to fill one of the more obvious gaps, its aim being to guide you through the maze of red tape surrounding the granting of planning permission.

It’s a delightfully easy read, which is saying something for a book on planning. I have worked with Ken over many years at the Homebuilding & Renovating shows, where he frequently held court as our Expert Planner. His sympathies have always been with the developer and the selfbuilder and this shows through right from the opening sentences. In fact the entire first chapter is a masterpiece of understated rage against our little-loved planning regime. This is very much the grumpy old man territory.

And, of course, none the worse for it, because if you are trying to win a planning approval you are almost guaranteed to share Ken’s jaundiced view of the whole process. It’s a game to be won or lost, a game with potentially very big stakes, hence the title of the book. It makes no difference whether you are a rookie homeowner, trying to get permission for an extension, or Persimmon Homes, aiming to build a new estate; the feelings that go along with trying to outwit the planners are pretty much the same.

The book takes you on a guided tour of our planning system. You will find out about all manner of planning arcana, such as lawful development certificates, tree preservation orders and permitted development rights. Ken is a very knowledgeable guide, having been a local council planning officer for 17 years before embarking on a more lucrative career as a planning consultant. He sets out to explain what the laws of the game are and in doing so he has created a useful primer that should be read by students undertaking planning courses just as much as homeowners wanting to understand how the system works. My only real gripes are that the illustrations are uninspiring and that there is no index, though in its place is a comprehensive Glossary of Planning terms.

Overall, the Planning Game is a welcome addition to the selfbuild canon and it’s a book that will not only find a place on my main bookshelf but is also guaranteed to become extremely well thumbed.

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