Whose fringe is it anyway: prospects and opportunities for integrated management of the
urban- rural fringe.
Alister Scott, Professor of Spatial Planning and Governance Birmingham City University.
The spaces where countryside meets town are often amongst society's most valued places yet, arguably, lack
sufficient understanding and integrated management.. What is this fringe or edge space? How is it changing and
why? And how can environmental change be managed more effectively where uncertainty, diversity, neglect,
conflict and transition commonly feature? This project builds on existing research and decision-making tools, but is
located within a hybrid conceptual framework. Emerging concepts from the intersection of spatial planning and
ecosystem service paradigms have been identified and applied within a series of focussed briefs unpacking the
potential and opportunities for management of the fringe. Set within an emerging discourse of rapidly changing
environmental governance in the UK, community environmental planning, valuation and decision making and long
term environmental planning provide the foci for two case studies to identify and evaluate management issues
and needs in particular places. From these, strategic principles are promulgated to shape an interdisciplinary
spatial model for fringe management. It is concluded that fringe areas provide an important test arena within
which to study environmental change through multi-scalar and multi-temporal perspectives and it is clear, in an
English context that there is a significant policy disjuncture with the contemporary thrust on localism whilst this
research identifies the need for more regional scales of working and understanding
This paper seeks to champion the opportunity space provided at the fringe; the space where town
meets countryside or vice versa. This zone, fringe or edge has been much neglected and associated
predominately with negative vocabulary and attitudes within urban-centric models of expansion. But
drawing on research that converges around spatial planning and ecosystem services ideas, we seek to
show how this space can be re-imagined pro-actively in pursuit of wider environmental and societal
goals. The thrust of this paper will draw inspiration from a series of recent workshops held from
November 2010 –April 2011 as part of a wider RELU1
project looking at the management of the rural
urban fringe. In all some 200 specialists crossing traditional disciplinary and professional boundaries
have contributed. Due to the ongoing nature of this the paper will be using a preliminary contents
analysis to augment the established literature. Your views will be most welcome.
West Midlands Rural Affairs Forum Improving decision making for the sustainable
management of the rural-urban fringe (relevant to all policy briefs); 25 participants* (held)
reports finalised (attached)
Green Economics Institute Working Symposium on Long Termism in the Built Environment:
the Rural Urban Fringe and Land Use, including Farming, Food, and Architecture (Long
termism and values/decision-making); 65 participants* (held) draft reports out for
consultation (attached) (further workshop to follow 3 May discussing reports)
Birmingham Environmental Partnership (+ Sustainability West midlands + Chamber of
Commerce) Bridging the rural urban divide through green economic opportunities for
RELU= Rural Economy and Land Use Programme. www.relu.ac.uk
Birmingham and our Local Enterprise Partners (environmental governance); 88
participants* (held) draft report out (attached)
Localise West Midlands Meeting local needs with local resources in the rural urban fringe:
(Values and Decision Making); 20 participants (February 17 2011) draft report
BCU Learning the lessons from Strategic planning: resurrecting institutional memories
Mark Middleton as lead 11 March 2010 14 participants draft report
Forest Research 8 participants (Values and Decision making) (March 2011) Claudia Carter as
lead. April 8th
The zone where urban meets rural is ubiquitous yet highly diverse across the UK. Arguably the fringe
now represents the dominant space of the 21st century (Mckenzie, 1996). Gallent et al (2004:223)
suggest that the key attributes of the rural-urban fringe are characterised by:
a multi-functional environment, but often characterised by essential service functions;
a dynamic environment, characterised by adaptation and conversion between uses;
low-density economic activity including retail, industry, distribution and warehousing;
an untidy landscape, potentially rich in wildlife.
However, rather than any clear lines of demarcation, the fringe represents ‘fuzzy’, ‘messy’ and
transitory spaces undergoing iterative and haphazard processes of continuous and rapid transformation
(Sullivan and Lovell, 2006). From “landscapes at the edge” (Gallent et al, 2006); places of transition
(Whitehand and Morton, 2004); landscapes of disorder (Qvistrom, 2007); chaotic landscapes (Gant et
al, 2010); a new geography of urban sprawl (Micarelli and Pizzioli, 2008); the ‘last frontier’ (Griffiths
1994) –ephemeral landscapes (Qvistrom 2010) and edgelands (Shoard, 2002); reflect the highly potent
academic contribution . Collectively, they all raise an implicit ‘otherness’, reflecting not only the nature
of the place, but also possible communities and inhabitants who choose to reside there.
Commonly, it is subservient to an urban master acting as a repository for an ever increasing set of
demands such as housing, retail development, recreation and waste management which are constrained
by the implementation of green belt policies which shape substantive parts of the fringe (Bovill, 2002;
Elson, 1986). Accordingly, a patchwork spatial structure has developed, driven by macro-scale, rapidly
implemented drivers of change such as supermarket chains, housing developers and other large scale
infrastructure. Indeed, it is this faster pace and large-scale nature of change that differentiates this
space and, given the range of interests affected, can engender significant local contestation (Weaver
and Lawton, 2001: Freiberger, 2000; Friedland, 2002). Nevertheless, presenting any simple stereotype
of the fringe is both dangerous and irrelevant given the diversity and complexity that is now involved
(Scott et al, 2008).
This urban-centric, reactive and piecemeal approach to planning in the fringe is of concern as little if any
attention has been given to the needs of the place itself and those people who live and work
there(Sharp and Clark, 2008). Essentially it is space waiting for something “better” to happen. This goes
against the spirit and purpose of ‘spatial planning’ which seeks to marry multi-scalar and multi-sectoral
considerations within a strategic framework . Furthermore, these spaces have a wide range of
ecosystem services which provide value for society as a whole (Haines-Young and Potschin, 2007;
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2003). Seemingly, there is a significant disconnect between the
potential of the fringe within an adaptive management approach (Armitage et al 2009) and the “messy”
reality which confronts many publics who interact with the space.
Renewed attention, within an English context, on these spaces is opportune given the wholesale
changes to the English planning system currently taking place where “localism, localism , and localism”
now reigns supreme (Clark, 2011). Whilst, the potential for delivering positive change within the fringe
is huge, squaring the need for better strategic management within a localism agenda presents a
significant planning conundrum.
Not surprisingly policy has consistently struggled to adapt to the rapidly changing nature of
development of some parts of the fringe. Problems are further compounded by its transitory nature,
with a single fringe area often being shaped by multiple local authorities, each with different local
development policies with limited cross boundary communication. The Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS)
helped cross such boundaries but there was widespread concern at their top-down imposition on local
authorities leading to their ‘Pickling’ under the new administration. Now operating within a bottom-up
localism approach, many authorities are simply working with Unitary Development Plans (UDP’s) and
Local Development Plans (LDP’s) with no spatially specific national policy or strategic frameworks. Whilst
the formation of Local Enterprise Partnerships may offer some potential, their role is seemingly
constrained by its voluntary status and business-sectoral remit which inhibits any holistic approach to
management; the lack of environmental representation being a case in point.
The sustainable management of the fringe therefore presents real challenges in terms of reconciling
competing land uses and stakeholder interests and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the fringe
struggles to fit within any rigid, quasi-legal structure of the current land use planning system. Indeed,
Qvistrom (2007) identifies these “landscapes out of order” within a positive assessment as sometimes
innovative new land uses and changes defy the way we tend to regulate and order space through
conventional planning policies. Can the fringe be reconceptualised as an area for adaptive management
and innovation within a rural-urban fringe (RUF) perspective that challenges the established urban
centric view? For example, the incredible-edible initiative at Todmorden illustrates the potential for
farming in fringe locations within a localism type initiative2
. Such land use doesn’t fit our conventional
use class order nor current planning rules. However, if we assess the contribution and potential of such
schemes through the lens of ecosystems services, we can start to identify the value and contribution of
such initiatives within our spatial planning frameworks. This convergence of spatial planning with
ecosystem services provides an interesting shift in direction across different government departments
(Defra and CLG) within which we might change the way we value, manage and plan in the RUF; the focus
moving from place to interrelationships, dependencies and services set within strategic-led
This move to an assessment of the RUF environment in relation to different stakeholder perspectives on
the goods and services that nature provides for society heralds a framework in planning to connect the
majority of the human population, living in urban environments with their wider (natural) environment.
This resonates strongly with spatial planning theory which moves away from the regulatory fix of
traditional land use systems to plan spaces and places in a more integrated manner: connecting
planning issues across the different scales and different sectors to develop more pro-active and positive
policies (Opdam et al, 2002). However, these ideas have yet to percolate through much planning
practice, as many planners remain trapped in their sectoral bondage (Taylor, 2010).
As part of this research we therefore undertook comparative reviews of spatial planning and ecosystem
services literatures’ and have identified four key themes3
which in our view are only partially addressed
in practice and are deemed central to improved management of the RUF. The rest of the paper unpacks
these themes drawing on a series of workshops held between November-April 2011.
1. The convergence of Spatial Planning and Ecosystem Services in the RUF
2. Long Termism and Temporality in the RUF
3. Partnerships in grey, Green and Blue Infrastructure Planning in the RUF
4. Contested l Values and Decision Making in the RUF
Incredible Edible http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/
The research is evolving and since the submission of the abstract you will note a subtle change in themes to
incorporate an enhanced role for infrastructure planning.
Comment [AS1]: These themes will
form the core of my paper at Seattle.
The RUF is a unique space, with important values to users from both urban and rural areas. however
the current planning system seems unable to manage these values in an effective way. The potential
benefits of ecosystem service criteria being incorporated into spatial planning seem a useful way
forward, and when better to do this than when the current planning system is facing an overhaul.
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