Assignment 1 PLANNING FRAMEWORKS (T0910 – TCP8001) November 09, 2009 Matej Privrel ERASMUS Exchange Student The history of planning system as a policy in the UK dates back to the mid-19th century, when it started to concern mostly health and social problems in urbanising areas. The emergence of the systems in a wider scope, within the world, was in those times taking diverse directions, the result of which is noticeable in the differences among spatial planning cultures nowadays. It could be said that there are always three subjects playing either an active or a passive role in the planning process – government, markets and the public.
The degree of their participation depends mostly on the political regime, the actual government, the economic climate in the country and the ability (but also the will) to get involved. Planning as such might be portrayed as a positive, pro-active and strategic place-making activity on the one hand or as a negative, regulatory and reactive function on the other. Fluctuation between these two characters of planning was observable throughout the history, when planners raised the question: Who should planning be addressed to?
To the business and private sector, which are boosting the economy through taxes, both locally and centrally, but require faster solutions in order to meet actual market demands? Or to a chiefly stagnant and ‘more public’ function where the decision-making is slower and economically not that viable? The answer seems to be ambiguous. The aim of this essay is therefore to discuss how the potential tension between speed and community engagement has been dealt in the main reforms, during developing the planning system in England, since World War II.
The turning period around the end of the war could be characterised not only by the country suffering from the aftermaths of the war but also by weakness of the state machinery. District and county borough councils were generally small and powerless. As a result of this, developers were all too often misusing the system as they believed that no local authority would face pulling down existing buildings (cf. Wood 1949: 45). Obviously, without having a state power above developers, there was no sign of public engagement either.
All the essential apparatus in the post-war period was provided by Town and Country Planning Acts, the Distribution of Industry Acts, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, the New Town Act and the Town Development Acts. As a breath of fresh air after the war came ‘The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947’, that took all the development under control by making it subject to planning permission. Development plans were to be prepared for every area in the country.
Moreover, development rights were nationalised and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which became responsible for the coordination of local plans. These changes did not foster the development in any way. Instead, circumstances led to the ‘regulatory era’ where neither public nor private sectors were successful in ‘rebuilding Britain’ (to use one of the popular slogans at the end of the war). Additionally, there was no tension between community engagement and speed (‘slowness’ would be more appropriate) as there was still no reference to public involvement in the plan-making process.
The first post-war economic boom sparked off in 1953 when both the development charge and building licensing from previous years were abolished. This reversal in policy contributed its part to a continuous 20-year period of economic growth and rise of living standards. The position of planners reached a level, where they were regarded as trusted experts transferring scientific progress to solve problems of political and social organisation (Hague 1984). At that time, lack of public participation was not recognised as a problem.
Professionals were perceived as acting in the general public interest. ‘Planning proposals are generally presented to the public as a fait accompli, and only rarely are they given a thorough public discussion’ (Cullingworth 1964: 273). This period of blind faith was in retreat in the late 1960s when political consensus had broken down and there was noticeable dissatisfaction both with the inability to access the decision-making within government and with the way in which benefits were being distributed.
The Skeffington Report (1969) is considered as a turning point in the attitude to public participation in planning. Although its recommendations were rather obvious (keeping people informed throughout the plans and asking them to make comments), it pictured the steps the British government had to take to make the community’s participation real. Another contribution was made by the Seebohm Committee (1968), which was highlighting the contrast between the traditional representative democracy and public participation.
According to the committee, participation can be effective only if it is organised. The publication of these and other works along with the will of the government to divest itself of responsibility to consider ‘the crushing burden of casework’, led to the devolving of powers and ability of other interest groups to participate in the plan making process (The Planning Act in 1968). Although the government was keeping the local communities participating, it was in the same time monitoring if their decisions meet ‘the general public interest’ or other interests which it considered to be important.
Many local authorities therefore even avoided preparing statutory development plans as they believed the ‘costs’ of procedures of consultation and objection outweighed any benefits (Bruton and Nicholson 1983). However, when planning authorities sought public participation, they often adopted a ‘reveal and defend’ or even an ‘attack and response’ strategy (Rydin 1999: 188 and 193). The following period of three successive Margaret Thatcher’s governments (1979 1990) clearly portrays the contrast between speed and public engagement.
The philosophy of her reign pursued the boost of the economy in recession years, seen in deregulation of the market, which was naturally reflected in the planning and community engagement. Numerous amendments were made to the plan-making and developing control procedures during her rule. ‘There was a consistent diminution of the significance accorded to central public participation in policy formulation, as part of an effort to ”streamline” system and reduce delays’ (Thomas, H. 1996: 177). One result of this was the downgrading of the power of strategic planning and the reduction of opportunities for public participation.
In the 1990s the government was putting an emphasis on strengthening links with citizens and devolving policies and decision making to the local levels (principle of subsidiarity). This was described as a response to ‘the new circumstances of the global age; it is a deepening or democratising of democracy’ (Giddens 1998:72). The Local Government Act 2000 made it statutory to prepare the community strategy. The community strategy should ‘allow the local communities to articulate their aspirations, needs and priorities; coordinate [and focus] the actions of the council and of the public, private, voluntary and community … nd contribute to the achievement of sustainable development both locally and more widely’ (Preparing Community Strategies: Gov. advice to Local Authorities (2001). Communities should also make special efforts to involve those, normally underrepresented in policy-making – faith or ethnic minorities ethnic communities and young people. An evaluation of these efforts by the Community Development Foundation points to some success in the government’s drive for community involvement, but notes difficulties of participation in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
In general, in terms of speed and public engagement the planning system before the year 2000 was aptly described by The Economist (10 Nov 2001:38) regarding the Heathrow 5 Saga: ‘Few countries have ended with a planning system which manages both to hold projects up for decades and to give people the feeling that they don’t have any say at all. ‘ Towards the end of the millennium, planning was marked by the will to change the old, cumbersome and unfashionable policies in order to both improve the quality of planning decisions that affect places and to speed up the planning decisions.
These recurring themes of clarifying the planning machinery were thought to be solved by the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act, which was approved in June 2004 as a longest running Bill (since December 2002). Although the 2004 Act is appreciated for several contributions (integration with other strategies, community involvement, programme management, etc. ), it is also blamed for being still not clear and responsive enough. Processes dealing with major infrastructure projects were too slow and complicated.
For instance, it took six years to deal with upgrading the power line in North Yorkshire. On the other hand, from the perspective of the communities the system was perceived to be favouring the well-resourced over the less well-off communities and citizens. The current Planning Act was approved in 2008. Main amendments at the national level lead to concentration on infrastructure projects, reducing the volume of guidance and improving their clarity (chiefly distinguishing policy from advice). Changes at the regional level, apart from improving comprehensibility (cross-reference rather than a epetition of the national policy), strive to reflect regional diversity and incorporate other regional strategies into planning. On the local level, the abolition of county-level structure plans was achieved. Instead, the Local Development Framework was introduced. This change should promote streamline and proactive approach to managing development. These amendments in general were made to speed up the plan-making process, without neglecting the effective public participation in various parts of the process.
Whether the recurring task of effective plan making appropriately addressed the requirements of our present age is too soon to judge. In conclusion, the position of the speed and the public engagement in the planningprocess is always formed by the conditions in the society – the political regime, the government, the economic climate, the culture and other factors. Throughout the British history, issues of the speed and the public participation were often standing in the stark contrast to each other. During Thatcherism, there was no place for public involvement and n the contrary, the public participation in the 2000s was considered to be slowing down the decision-making process. The aim of the all Planning Acts in the recent decades has been to harmonise these two issues into the highest possible degree. If is the current Act from 2008 successful, will be noticeable by practise in the following years. Bibliography: – Lecture notes and materials given at the lectures Barry Cullingworth and Vincent Nadin (2006), Town and Country planning in the UK – fourteenth edition, Routledge, Oxon Andrew Blowers and Bob Evans (1997), Town planning into the 21st century – Routledge, London –