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Planning lessons to be learnt from Europe

Words: Laura Edgar

New studies from Europe show France, Germany and the Netherlands have “successfully tackled” housing and regeneration by using planning skills and tools in a “proactive and positive” way that is different to the UK, says the RTPI.

The research, undertaken by Dr Alex Lord and Dr Phil O’Brien at the University of Liverpool, considers three European case studies – Nijmegen, Hamburg and Lille – and examines the particular factors that have led to faster and better development, particularly housing developments in Western Europe. It highlights the differences between the UK and its closest neighbours, the RTPI said.

Planning as 'market maker': How planning is used to stimulate development in France, Germany and The Netherlands (pdf) explains how the markets for land and property, when left to operate without intervention, are “inherently incapable of delivering either the quantity or quality of places needed in the UK for sustainable economic growth”.

In Nijmegen, land readjustment focuses on coalition building between private land owners. They were found to recognise that the temporary collected pooling of development rights can lead to more long term individual benefits than working alone.

According to the report, Hamburg demonstrates how a “strong guiding rule” in large scale developments can be used to channel private sector “innovation” and delivery capabilities to increase the quality of a development. The state and the city developed a planning institution that undertakes upfront land assembly and infrastructure provision.

In Lille, the report found that planning institutions can be empowered to employ strategic foresight and cooperative incentives to overcome institutional deficiencies which prevent coordinated development across jurisdictions.

Michael Harris, head of research at the RTPI, said: “The experience in Europe shows that planning tools such as upfront infrastructure provision and land readjustment can shape the form and density of development effectively and we aren’t making enough use of them in the UK.

“Planning is so much more than just about regulating the use of land, but somehow this has become the dominant thinking in the UK and has led to the perception that planning is anti-growth, cumbersome and bureaucratic. This paper offers timely and powerful evidence that when used in a more proactive and positive way, planning can shape better development and is one of the most powerful unused weapons we have to support the UK economy and improve quality of life.”