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In Search of Positive Planning


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In Search of Positive Planning

  1. 1. in search ofpositive planningDavid Adams and Alister Scott look beyond current politicaland economic aspirations for growth in the search for ways tore-enliven planning as a force for goodIs planning on the wane? At present, much of the segregation of different ethnic and income groups,planning profession’s energy is being devoted to its and poor and/or harmful urban (and rural/rural-survival and to reactionary responses to central fringe) landscapes have become hallmark featuresgovernment attacks on its efficacy and professional of the unintentional consequences of capitalist-leddelivery.1 Given the market-orientated stance of the land development.5current UK Government, and the trend towards the For Devine et al.,6 an insidious culture ofderegulation of land development evident in materialism has, to some degree, also removed theproposed legislation such as the Growth and capacity for concerted collective action. However,Infrastructure Bill and policy guidance such as the as Castells7 notes, there is strong evidence ofNational Planning Policy Framework – all set against thriving collectivised networks, often drawing on aa backdrop of austerity – it could be argued that the sense of outrage over the perceived failure ofplanning profession is not in a particularly strong government and financial institutions, which haveplace to be making demands for a more socially and done much to create new spaces of democracy andenvironmentally just, egalitarian ethic. Yet it is offer potential ways forward for political economyprecisely these circumstance that make the debates.articulation of such thinking necessary, providing a As Holling et al.8 point out, we all have to live inchallenge to the prevailing orthodoxy of the an environment that is shaped and constantlyoverriding pursuit of economic growth. reconfigured by the workings of government and its Drawing inspiration from Professor Dennison’s associated institutions in response to key drivers of1942 Minority Report from the Committee on Land change (such as economic growth, climate change,Utilisation in Rural Areas (the Scott Committee)2 and community cohesion, energy and infrastructure).Peter Ambrose’s reflections on possible ways Thus it is important for planning education toforward for UK planning,3 this article argues that prioritise a critical understanding of the functioningconstructive proposals can be made both for and dependencies of the environment within aplanning education and for the wider strategies that systems perspective, and it is here that anmight be employed by a future government so as to ecosystem approach can help to signpost a wayreconnect planning and environment as a positive forward.9 This could be positioned appropriatelyand political agent of social, economic and alongside the development of more visionary andenvironmental change. spatial plans that embed a long-term approach to planning and generate a new, more humane andJoining up planning and the environment environmentally sustainable economy (for example There is a need for further and higher education the Foresight Land Use Futures project).10 Ideas ofto encourage students of planning to critically ‘prosperity without growth’11 or a ‘Green Newconsider the political economy of the built and Deal’12 provide precious insights into the sort ofnatural environment, aligning urban and rural new political economy that might be desired and/ormatters as part of a connected and interdependent realised.system.4 This should be rooted in the perspective It is likely that achieving these ambitions wouldthat the environment (in the widest sense) is the also require much stronger intervention in thedirect outcome of the (often unequal) power economy through incentives and regulation,relations in the society that produced it. alongside an overall behaviour change in our Commerce-dominated city centres, car-dominated policy- and decision-making processes. Such amovement, undesirable market-determined shift, according to Massey,13 is necessary to re-88 Town & Country Planning February 2013
  2. 2. invigorate society’s collective capacity to ask how with this information, and with important newthe economy can be re-organised to improve skills in place-making and community participation,wellbeing and help to create more sustainable public sector planners can make a consideredplaces. assessment of the commercial viability of a development consent, and can enter into a realisticPlanning as an agent of change debate over the long-term distribution of benefits It is salutary to remember that planning is an and profits.agent of social change, and an effective mechanism Planners also need to move away from their risk-for the redistribution of wealth. Some of the recent averse nature and favour more experimental typesselective dismantling of planning’s machinery has of project though the imaginative use of Section106been in the interests of powerful and (let us not agreements.16 In a sense their fix on order andforget) minority groups. It is therefore worth zoning needs to be relaxed in favour of uses whichreminding ourselves of Ambrose’s idea that public generate societal benefits.sector planners could be more proactive whenentering into negotiations over private sector Planning in austerityinvestment.14 One practical way forward here would In 1942 the Scott Committee on Land Utilisationbe for all public planners to develop a more in Rural Areas deliberated within an imperative toinformed understanding of how private sector support agriculture and forestry on the one handdevelopers begin to identify and assess an and restrict the growth of towns and cities on the other. This was entirely logical given that the Second World War had emphasised the UK’s vulnerability in ‘food security’, and that unchecked suburban expansion into vast tracts of countryside had created a significant backlash among the landed elite. Hence incentives for farming and forestry were established, with restrictions placed on urban development, resulting in a ‘no growth’ ethic enshrined in the subsequent 1947 Town and Country Planning Act and the 1947 Agriculture Act. Professor Dennison’s 1942 Minority Report from the Scott Committee17 also provides a significant lesson in long-term planning, looking as it did outside the immediate political and economic imperative to consider key drivers of change. Dennison was critical of the lack of economic analysis and justification in the Majority Report and argued: ‘I can conceive of no more proper way to use rural land in the national interest than it should beAbove used for the development necessary to provide better living conditions for the people and theirAn ecosystems approach, together with more visionary children after them, now living in our congestedspatial plans, could underpin a re-organised economy and towns.’ 2more sustainable places Dennison was able to build a set of rural policyopportunity for investment development, which imperatives for 1942 that largely reflect rural policyfinancial interests might be involved in assisting today. He challenged the unequivocal support givenwith land assembly, how development schemes are to agriculture and the limiting of rural developmentpromoted, and approximately what rate of profit and highlighted the distributional effects of policy onmight be accrued from a potential scheme. different groups, enshrining in his approach As Scott et al.15 acknowledge, there are principles of equity, diversification and need-basedweaknesses in many public sector planners’ development. While criticised by some for holdingexpertise in development and property economics, views that seemingly ran counter to the prevailingleaving them in a disadvantageous position when economic and political ideology of the time,17entering into negotiation with speculative property Dennison, in effect, had the foresight to envisiondevelopers, consultants, and (sometimes) their the long-term needs of the countryside, andpowerful financial backers. Echoing Ambrose’s questioned the development of policy that wasearlier suggestions regarding the skills and rooted in securing economic growth based onknowledge of public sector planners, when armed protecting agriculture and forestry alone. Town & Country Planning February 2013 89
  3. 3. Supplying land for development planning and infrastructure investment to support It is useful to remind ourselves of the idea business interests, these acquiring agencies woulddeveloped by some of the notable ‘political need to operate at a scale larger than existingeconomy’ theorists of the 1970s, such as Castells, district, unitary or county boundaries and would beLefebvre, Massey and others, that any future responsible for the flow of land to meet rationallygovernment of the centre or left, even if seeking to assessed future demand for the area (i.e. re-re-enliven planning as a force for good, could not invigorating the strategic co-ordination ofrealistically implement policies that were seen to be infrastructure that has been dismantled by thethreatening to rates of capital accumulation.18 current UK Government). Simplifying in the extreme, in this area the state However, under this scenario planners wouldhas, effectively, two options. First, it could intervene wield more control over the evolution ofto expropriate the whole construction development development, and, as a consequence, the landsector. While this may perhaps be seen as a market could be regulated because a self-financingjustifiable aim for a centre-left administration, it is a public authority would effectively control both thecompletely unrealistic prospect. On the other hand, price at which land is acquired and the price atthe state could seek to create the conditions in which it is then released for construction.which a socially-just output is privately produced, in Significant moves towards this ambition havea way that offers an attractive return on funds already been (partially) realised in the Communityinvested. This would involve a rather more radical Right to Buy scheme in Scotland (which has beendeparture from the well-intentioned (if, according to in place for nearly ten years), where a significantsome commentators, potentially socially-flawed19) lesson is that the scope of community rights shouldideas surrounding the use of Tax Increment encompass all land sales, whether public or privateFinancing (TIF) initiatives as a means of funding the (instead of pursuing the ‘land of community value’public sector investment required to spur future concept in the Localism Act, where land eligible for Community Right to Buy is determined by local authorities).21‘The state is ideally situated As Falk explains,22 there are also notable to intervene to set out exemplars elsewhere in North West Europe. In Helsinki, for example, 85% of the land is owned by parameters and guide good the city or other public bodies, and this has enabled planning across the country the city to develop, creating high-quality housing, maintaining socially-mixed neighbourhoods and based on social and extending sustainable transport routes (tram, cycle environmental justice. This and ski) through the administrative area while needs a move away from the generating euro 200 million a year in surplus for the municipal budget. current direction of travel of In the UK context, the Green Party’s Land Value planning, to stand up against Tax Bill23 has set out a comprehensive yet perhaps more immediate reform, and proposes a move those who seek to undermine towards land and property value taxation which it and shout clearly and with will provide an incentive against speculative holding of empty flats and assist with the funding of confidence that there is a important infrastructure. way that we can make this journey together’ Ways forward? Although in some regards highly aspirational (and potentially contentious), the broad thrust of policyregeneration, towards an extension of powers for direction considered here would be to achieve athe state to acquire all land for development more progressive and integrative approach tothrough the vehicle of democratically-elected public planning. Such an approach would be underpinnedagencies. by a belief in democratic decision-making and would This would, of course, also require central be designed to offset land speculation, reduce thegovernment to embrace (and draw upon) what discriminatory tensions that exist between local andCastells7 calls the creative capacity that is fostered national governance structures, ensure a flow ofamong people engaging in a multiplicity of social business to an under-pressure construction sector,networks. From a perhaps radical organisational and provide regulation on the prices that govern (orperspective, and broadly similar to the way in which delay) new development.the Local Enterprise Partnerships20 have been Ultimately, this article argues that the state isestablished to ensure that there is the necessary ideally situated to intervene to set out parameters90 Town & Country Planning February 2013
  4. 4. and guide good planning across the country based 15 ‘Disintegrated development at the rural urban fringe:on social and environmental justice. This needs a re-connecting spatial planning theory and practice’ (seemove away from the current direction of travel of note 9)planning, to stand up against those who seek to 16 D. Adams, M. Hardman and A.J. Scott: ‘Guerrilla warfare in the planning system: revolutionary progressundermine it and shout clearly and with confidence towards sustainability?’. Geografiska Annaler: Series B,that there is a way that we can make this journey Human Geography (forthcoming)together. One way forward would be a good spatial 17 See the House of Lords debate on post-war planningplan. reconstruction between Earl de la Warr and Lord Balfour: Hansard, HL Deb. 19 Nov. 1942, Vol. 125.q David Adams is a Lecturer in Planning and Alister Scott is of Environmental and Spatial Planning at the School planning-and-reconstructionof the Built Environment, Birmingham City University.David Adams can be contacted at 18 For a summary, see N. Taylor: Urban Planning TheoryThe authors would like to thank Professor Peter Larkham for since 1945. SAGE, 1998his insightful comments. The views expressed are personal. 19 K. Larkin and Z. Wilcox: What Would Maggie Do? Why the Government’s Policy on Enterprise Zones Needs toNotes be Radically Different to the Failed Policy of the 1980s.1 A Manifesto for Planning and Land Reform. Draft Centre for Cities, 2011. manifesto. Planners Network UK (PNUK), Nov. 2012. assets/files/2011%20Research/11-02- 25%20Enterprise%20Zones.pdf 20121027pnukmanifesto.pdf 20 ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’. Letter to local authority2 S.R. Dennison: Committee on Land Utilisation in Rural leaders and business leaders from the Business, Areas – Minority Report. HMSO, 1942 Innovation and Skills and Communities and Local3 Peter Ambrose, who died in August 2012, was the Government Secretaries. Department for Business, author of several important planning texts, including, Innovation and Skills/Department for Communities and perhaps most notably, Whatever Happened to Local Government, Jun. 2010. Planning? (Routledge, 1986) See P Allmendinger and G. Haughton: ‘Post-political . attachment_data/file/5649/1626854.pdf spatial planning in England: a crisis of consensus?’. 21 See, for example, A.F Mackenzie: ‘A working land: .D. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, crofting communities, place and the politics of the 2012, Vol. 37, 89-103 possible in post-Land Reform Scotland’. Transactions of5 See, for example, P Hall: ‘Geographers and the urban . the Institute of British Geographers, 2006, Vol. 31 (3), century’. In R. Johnston and M. Williams (Eds): A 383-98 Century of British Geography. Oxford University Press, 22 Growth Cities: Local Investment for National Prosperity. 2003 URBED, for Regional Cities East, 2010.6 P Devine, A. Pearmain and D. Purdy (Eds): Feelbad . Britain. Lawrence & Wishart, 2009 files/Growth%20Cities.pdf7 M. Castells: Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social 23 Land Value Tax Bill. House of Commons. TSO, Movements in the Age of the Internet. Polity Press, 2012 Nov. 2012. cbill/2012-2013/0045/20130045.pdf8 C.S. Holling, L.H. Gunderson and D. Ludwig: ‘In quest of a theory of adaptive change’. In L.H. Gunderson and C.S. Holling (Eds): Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Washington DC, Island Press, Washington, DC, USA, 20029 The ecosystem approach is defined by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity as ‘a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way’. See also A.J. Scott et al.: ‘Disintegrated development at the rural urban fringe: re-connecting spatial planning theory and practice’. Progress in Planning, 2013 (forthcoming)10 Land Use Futures: Making the Most of Land in the 21st Century. Foresight Land Use Futures Project. Government Office for Science, 2010. projects/land-use-futures/reports-and-publications11 T. Jackson: Prosperity without Growth. Routledge, 201112 The Green New Deal Group website is at D. Massey: ‘Economics and ideology in the present moment’. Soundings, 2011, No. 48, Summer. P Ambrose: Whatever Happened to Planning? . Routledge, 1986 Town & Country Planning February 2013 91