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03/08/2016

Planning can be central to the politics of change

England / Shutterstock_214938469

Planning in England has strayed far from its utopian roots and needs to be reset, argue Kate Henderson and Hugh Ellis of the TCPA. Only then can planning help to solve the social divisions exposed by the recent EU referendum

Kate Henderson and Hugh EllisIf there is one thing the EU referendum has taught us it is that there is no shared vision – between generations, towns and cities - about the kind of society we want.

This lack of shared vision can be seen in the stark decline of planning in England over recent years. The gulf between the aspirations of the founders of the planning movement over a century ago and its current principles and practice has never been wider.

The process of decline of planning in England did not start in 2015 or in 2010, and the reasons it came about are complicated. Of course the current government is not solely responsible for extinguishing the utopian values that once underpinned the town planning movement. One cannot honestly say, that for a generation, planning has always upheld beauty in design or social inclusion. Planning has not always secured the most basic infrastructure provision, such as enough school places or capacity on our overcrowded transport networks. However, planning did intervene to secure mixed-use developments and, through planning obligations, it helped deliver a proportion of social and genuinely affordable homes. Today the rationale of planning – to uphold the wider public interest – has undergone a major shift, such that private interests are now dominant.

“The rationale of planning – to uphold the wider public interest – has undergone a major shift, such that private interests are now dominant”

The divisive debate surrounding the EU referendum highlights a growing public discontent with the outcomes which current policy is delivering for places and people. There is growing nervousness about inequality, a new fragility in the politics of climate denial, and people are beginning to question why things cannot be different.

The good news is that things can be different. Part of the solution is rebuilding the planning system founded on positive and creative ideas which make a real difference to people’s lives. With clear principles and a new set of structures and approaches we can deliver a system which is democratic and participative, and effective and efficient.

In our new book, English planning in crisis, we set out ten ideas to meet this challenge. Each idea on its own will make a difference and collectively they have the potential to transform the future of our nation. Five of these ideas are designed to rebuild the foundations of English planning and five are focused on key outcomes we need to achieve right now.


Ten ideas to transform England

• Idea one makes the case for a vision for England based on a clear objectives and set out in a national plan. We need to regain our confidence in spatial planning and ultimately we need a new Planning Act to set out a blueprint for change.

• Idea two makes the case for rebuilding our institutions to provide objective technical data and analyses of the key spatial issues facing the nation.

• Idea three is about developing a Plan B for England and makes the case for a national conversation about ‘The England We Want’.

• Idea four calls for the transformation of the planning profession from an ‘old boys club’ into a new generation of diverse, dynamic and inclusive place-makers.

• Idea five sets out how planning can regain its status as the best multidisciplinary degree it is possible to achieve.

• Idea six calls on Government to legislate for a framework of equal rights in planning decisions and actively invest in a national conversation about the future development of England.

• Idea seven sets out the need for a national debate about providing homes for everyone in society and proposes a new housebuilding model.

• Idea eight makes the case for national space, access and wheelchair standards for new homes.

• Idea nine sets out the need for a mandatory framework for delivering sustainable homes with a new zero carbon policy at the heart of this.

• Idea ten makes clear that we have a proven way of paying for change by the fair taxation of land values.

When we look at each idea individually they are really very modest, amounting to no more than the best of international urbanism. These are ten things we can and should do right now; our big challenge is whether we have the political will.


One thing we can be absolutely sure of is that there is no part of government, no professional group, no activist network or political party who are about to save us with a magic Plan B. If we are looking for a Hollywood ending, then we all need to start writing the script. The responsibility is in our hands to reshape the politics of change. It is up to all of us to form new coalitions of interests which will challenge and inspire government, providing the ideas and the critical mass to ensure that they rebuild the institutions, knowledge and commitment of the planning service so that we create better places in the future.

Kate Henderson and Hugh Ellis are chief executive (maternity leave) and interim chief executive/head of policy respectively of the Town and Country Planning Association

English planning in crisis: 10 steps to a sustainable future is available at: http://policypress.co.uk/english-planning-in-crisis#sthash.yzzURwu0.dpuf

Image | Shutterstock

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