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As4tcp paper

  1. 1. the rural-urbanfringe – forgottenopportunityspace?Planning policy has consistently struggled to adapt tothe multiple demands and rapidly changing nature ofdevelopment within the rural-urban fringe; butAlister Scott and Claudia Carter argue that marryingthe ecosystem approach with spatial planning providesa useful means of managing such spaces effectivelyThe spaces where countryside meets town are master, acting as a repository for an ever-increasingoften among society’s most valued places, yet set of demands, such as housing, retailthese ‘fringe’ or ‘edge’ spaces are, arguably, development, recreation, and waste management,insufficiently well understood and usually lack any all the while constrained by the rigid application ofkind of integrated management as places in their green belt policy. Accordingly, a patchwork spatialown right. For many the fringe is synonymous with structure has developed, driven by macro-scale,the green belt; yet this only forms a constituent part rapidly implemented drivers of change such asof this ‘messy’ space. Its ‘fuzzy’ boundaries are housing requirements, transport, retail and industrialelusive and dynamic, and uncertainty, diversity, parks, and other large-scale infrastructure. Suchneglect, conflict and transition typify the rather developments often generate significant land usenegative sentiment directed towards it. There is an conflict and community protest, representingurgent need to think more imaginatively about how contested visions of the kinds of urban-rural spaceswe can manage environmental change in such that are desired and needed.places more effectively. Planning for the fringe has been characterised by Crucially, these rural-urban fringe spaces have its urban-centricity, reactivity and piecemeallargely escaped planning and policy concern. Given approach, with little, if any, attention given to thethe speed, scale and focus of current changes to needs of the place itself – particularly from thethe planning system, there is a risk that the perspective(s) of those people who live, work andconsiderable potential for positive change in these engage with it on a daily basis. Essentially, the rural-spaces will not be realised. urban fringe is a passive and reactive space waiting Squaring the need for better strategic for something better to happen (as illustrated in themanagement with the emerging localism agenda cartoon overleaf). This runs counter to the spirit andpresents a significant planning conundrum. In most purpose of spatial planning, which seeks to marrycases the rural-urban fringe has no clear lines of multi-scalar and multi-sectoral considerations withindemarcation; it represents a ‘fuzzy’, ‘messy’, a visionary and positive strategic framework in‘transitory’ and dynamic edge to urban and rural which the potentiality of space is maximised.areas. Commonly it is subservient to an urban Furthermore, viewing these spaces through a Town & Country Planning May 2011 231
  2. 2. Used with kind permission, Left The rural-urban fringe is seen as ‘a passive and reactive space waiting for something better to happen’different but complementary lens of the ecosystem therein. Problems are further compounded by theapproach offers new interdisciplinary insights into transitory nature of such places, with a singlethe wide range of ecosystem services provided by fringe area often being shaped by multiple localthe rural-urban fringe for society. authorities, each with different local development At its simplest, the ecosystem approach provides policies and working with limited cross-boundarya framework for the integrated management of land, communication. The Regional Spatial Strategieswater and living resources. What, then, does nature (RSSs) helped to cross such boundaries, but theredo for us in the rural-urban fringe? Ecosystem was widespread concern over their perceived top-services represent the academic and policy construct down imposition on local authorities, leading to theirwhere nature provides a diverse range of goods and ‘Pickling’ under the new administration. Nowservices from within the rural-urban fringe, ranging moving towards a localism imperative, manyfrom the air filtration function of trees, aesthetics authorities will simply be working with Unitaryfrom the parkland landscape, and the flood Development Plans and Local Development Plansattenuation capacity of neglected scrubland. with limited spatially-specific national policy or Moving to an assessment of the environment in strategic frameworks to guide them.relation to the goods and services that nature While the formation of Local Enterpriseprovides for humans, the Millennium Ecosystem Partnerships offers some potential, their role isAssessment1 groups ecosystem services under the seemingly constrained by their business sectoralfollowing headings: remit; a lack of environmental representationq supporting services (necessary for the production signifies a shift away from integrated perspectives. of other ecosystem services – for example soil However, one can chart some real opportunities – formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling); as, for example, in the approved Greaterq provisioning services (ecosystem products – for Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise example food, fibre, and water); Partnership, which is enabling, for the first time,q regulating services (including processes such as rural and urban authorities and agencies to climate stabilisation, erosion regulation, and collaborate in the name of sustainable economic pollination); and development. Here, the prevailing space of the rural-q cultural services (non-material benefits from urban fringe could represent key opportunity spaces ecosystems – for example spiritual fulfilment, for new-style development activity. cognitive development, and recreation). Nevertheless, serious challenges to improved and holistic management of such spaces remain. With However, whatever lens is used to view the rural- contesting land uses (for example between energyurban fringe, policy has consistently struggled to and food production, commercial/ industrialadapt to the rapidly changing nature of development development, and greenspace preservation), it is232 Town & Country Planning May 2011
  3. 3. becoming apparent that the rural-urban fringe and accountability, where the key challenge isstruggles to fit within the rigid, quasi-legal structure about reconciling the differing views and prioritiesof the current land use planning system. Indeed, for the future of the rural-urban fringe and theQviström2 has usefully identified the fringe as power relations involved. Planning tools such asrepresenting ‘landscapes of disorder’. In a challenge Strategic Environmental Assessment andto spatial planners, he argues that planners seek to Environmental Impact Assessment value thetransform places into a specific order through landscape in a policy context, but often at thezoning and other planning functions. This expense of socio-cultural and other hidden‘manicured’ spatial landscape therefore might economic values. Participation is still very much ainitially exclude different, innovative and creative box-ticking exercise, with professional groups atdevelopments unless they are mainstreamed the forefront of decision-making.through public support and protest (for example,‘guerrilla gardening’ and permaculture fail toconform to extant definitions of agriculture andallotments). ‘In theory, the Localism Bill Indeed, the current research3 on which this article should result in fringe areasis based challenges the way we do planning and thesimple urban-centric view of its potential – hence being moulded more explicitlythe characterisation throughout this article as ‘rural- to the needs of the localurban’ rather than ‘urban-rural’. For example, the community... However, there is‘Incredible Edible’ initiative at Todmorden capturesthis well, highlighting through ‘localism-style’ a danger that localism willactivity how local-scale food production can occur in empower well-off communities,fringe locations.4 Such land uses do not fit withinour conventional land use classes, nor with current while hard-pressed, deprivedplanning rules. However, if we combine spatial communities may struggle toplanning and ecosystem approaches to re-assessthe contribution and potential of such schemes, we have an impact’can adopt a new maxim of planning for what wevalue rather than simply valuing what we plan. This new way of seeing and deriving meaning and q Community and environmental governance:potentiality from the rural-urban fringe can be used Ecosystem services are anthropocentric andas a framework in planning to connect the majority emphasise human dependency upon theof the human population, living in urban environment. As a result, well designedenvironments, with their wider (natural) stakeholder consultation is required to establish aenvironment. It also resonates strongly with spatial collective and communitarian approach. Thisplanning theory, which moves away from the philosophy fits well with the rural-urban fringe,regulatory fix of traditional land use systems to plan where multiple land uses and stakeholders can bespaces and places in a more integrated manner, affected by management and developmentconnecting planning issues across different scales proposals, and it has potential resonance withinand different sectors to develop more proactive and the Governments localism agenda.positive policies. However, these ideas have yet to Assuming that the Localism Bill is enacted,percolate through much planning practice, as many greater incentives for community consultation andplanners remain either trapped or secure in ‘sectoral involvement in key planning decisions should havebondage’. a positive impact on the evolution of the rural- If we rethink places and spaces in terms of the urban fringe. In theory, the Localism Bill shouldmultiplicity of services and uses that they are able result in fringe areas being moulded moreto provide, we might start to assess the rural-urban explicitly to the needs of the local community,fringe opportunity spaces in new ways, and so allowing local groups to bid for public assets suchmaximise services and production through as recreational facilities and community groups toinnovative new planning policies and plans. take a more active role in land management.However, there are key challenges to be manage: However, there is a danger that localism willq Contested values and decision-making: As a empower well-off communities to actively contested resource hosting multiple land uses, influence use and development (or no the rural-urban fringe inevitably holds different development as the case may be), while hard- meanings for its various user groups. Power over pressed, deprived communities may struggle to decision-making then becomes crucial in the use have an impact, potentially resulting in an rural- to which such places are put. This raises issues of urban fringe characterised by inequality and yet inclusiveness, representativeness, transparency more fragmentation. Town & Country Planning May 2011 233
  4. 4. q Long-term planning for the rural-urban fringe: The current spatial planning system rarely looks beyond 20-year timeframes, and is seriously affected by delays in plan-making so that evidence used in support of a plan is long out of date before the plan is implemented. As a society we need to follow a more radical planning paradigm that takes a long-term view and uses adaptive planning and management processes. The rigidity that characterises the current planning processes should give way to flexible plans built on learning gained through alternative pathways using the ecosystem philosophy. This would enable a more proactive stance which can more quickly respond to unforeseen circumstances and pilot new ideas. Such an approach would also allow us to plan whole areas rather than a series of iterative edges with no resilience and little in the way of connectivity. The rural-urban fringe is a unique space, withvalues that are important to users from both urbanand rural areas. However, the current planningsystem seems unable to manage these values inan effective way. Incorporating ecosystem servicecriteria into spatial planning frameworks seems auseful way forward, offering many potentialbenefits – and when better to do this than whenthe current planning system is undergoing anoverhaul?q Professor Alister Scott is Professor of Spatial Planningand Governance, and Claudia Carter is Lecturer inEnvironmental Management and Policy, in the School ofProperty, Construction and Planning, Birmingham CityUniversity. The views expressed here are personal.Notes1 Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A Framework for Assessment. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Island Press, Washington, DC, USA, 2003. M. Qviström: ‘Landscapes out of order: studying the inner urban fringe beyond the rural-urban divide’. Geografiska Annaler, Series B, Human Geography, 2007, Vol. 89 (3), 269-823 ‘Managing Environmental Change at the Rural-Urban Fringe’. Research Project, ESRC/Rural Economy and Land Use Programme. and excellence/centre-for-environment-and- society/projects/relu. The research team combines both academics and policy-makers/practitioners who collectively contribute to the development, method, implementation and learning in the 18-month project. Their joint expertise has shaped this thoughtpiece: Mark Reed, Nicki Schiessel, Ben Stonyer, Ruth Waters, Peter Larkham, Karen Leach, Nick Morton, Rachel Curzon, David Jarvis, Andrew Hearle, Mark Middleton, Bob Forster, Keith Budden, David Collier, Chris Crean, Miriam Kennet, and Richard Coles4 See the Incredible Edible Todmorden website at Town & Country Planning May 2011