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Urban planning is a key driver of China’s growth, says study

Words: Laura Edgar

The RTPI says China’s success in using planning to grow and develop the economy should send a strong signal to UK politicians and the public.

In a study commissioned by the RTPI, Planning China's Future: How Planners Contribute To Growth And Development, Professor Fulong Wu, Bartlett professor of planning at University College London, sets out China’s experience of using planning to drive growth while limiting the impact of urbanisation.

Janet Askew, president of the RTPI, said: “This study undertaken by one of RTPI’s accredited planning schools enables planners everywhere to learn more about planning through the exchange of ideas with other countries. It shows that planning can be at the heart of society, properly resourced and integrated in a multi-disciplinary way."

Based on evidence from places such as Kunshan (a satellite town near Shanghai), the Yangtze River delta region, and Zhengdong New District in Zhenzhou, the RTPI said the findings of the research include:

• The difference in attitude to planning in China compared with the UK. From the highest political level to municipal officials, there is firm confidence in planning and planners to be a leading force in fostering economic growth.

• Although the Chinese context is different and the Chinese planning system is not a perfect model to be followed, it does illustrate how extreme liberalisation of the planning system should be avoided, as this would weaken the ability of planners to shape the development market. Instead of solely relying on private initiatives and waiting for the development proposals from private developers, planning should be given the financial and political support to lead new development.

• Planning is the primary tool for municipalities to attract new industrial and residential development, and strategic plans are a key method used to promote areas.

Mike Harris, head of research of the RTPI, said: “The key lesson here is China’s attitude and confidence in robust planning. As the UK develops its strategic relationship with China on major projects and investments such as the National Infrastructure Plan and the Northern Powerhouse, these findings can be useful to provide a more positive interpretation of planning and help counter the perception that planning is a passive obstacle to economic growth.”

Professor Wu said: “As we need to develop a greater knowledge of the economic impact of planning, getting support from the RTPI to undertake research on planning for growth in China allowed us to shed light on this issue from a Chinese perspective. Looking at other contexts can allow us to get a better understanding of the way planning can support growth and help to create more economically sustainable and successful places.”

The Planner’s feature on this research can be found here.

Additionally, for information and to download the report, please visit the RTPI website.