There are many things about our historic towns and cities that make them examples of sustainability. Today's local authorities cannot take all the credit for this, after all much of what is best about these places is inherited from a more or less distant past. It is arguable though that for fifty years since 1947 planning has played a positive part in creating the quality of life offered by historic towns.
But what of the future? In 2001 the government published 'Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change'. The rest, as they say, is history. But hardly a glorious one: there are few practitioners who believe the new development plan system is an improvement on the old one, quite the contrary in fact. It is a credit to all involved that huge efforts are being made to make it work despite its shortcomings.
Given that criticism, further changes to put things right should be welcomed and there is indeed much in the Barker Review that may be helpful. At the same time there is a sense that the financial and market drivers behind the Review are challenging the principles of planning. In January the Policy Exchange think tank published a report calling for the scrapping of Green Belts, the reintroduction of Simplified Planning Zones and 'fiscal incentives' for councils to allow development.
The challenges of the present system and the turbulence around further change run the risk of undermining planning by demotivating planners and damaging public confidence in the benefits it brings. One of the arguments for planning is that it helps to create certainty and continuity.
That is not how things appear at the moment.
It is particularly ironic that we should be in this position now. The Local Government White Paper supports the need to strengthen communities and recognises the crucial role of local government in 'place shaping'. Perhaps even more important the Stern Report sees a critical role for planning in tackling climate change.
Our historic towns and cities can help to lead the way in this by building on their existing strengths - compactness, good environment, flexible economies, community involvement and strong senses of place - to become increasingly powerful exemplars of sustainable development. To help achieve this, planning must be strong, simple and stable if it is to be a proactive and positive force for sustainable change.