Planning manifesto launch

This was a meeting at the TCPA to launch – to a mainly planning gathering – a manifesto drafted by PNUK for a more progressive approach to planning and land in the UK.  Bob Colenutt in the chair. Everyone had been encouraged to read the document in advance  – and most seemed to have done so. Great.

Short introduction to the manifesto:

Why are we doing this?

*  terrible damage being done to the UK’s economy, society and built environment. Twin crises.

*  danger that we spend all our energy on damage limitation, defence, against coalition attacks

*  need to be positive and proactive in making a strong case for what planning can and should be

as educators, the 4 of who drafted this paper us are in touch with very many ex-students, many deeply frustrated or enraged by the work they have to do in public and private planning practice and who are looking for change…

What are we proposing?

*  putting the public interest back at the centre of urban development, urban (and rural) policy

*  stressing the potential of collective action – from smallest scale to national state (yes, state)

*  transforming land and property ownership relations to rid us of speculation and rent-seeking

* challenging the neo-liberal language / narrative

 Long-term change or immediate reforms?

* Trying to do both

* Where we should be heading in the long run, with some radical social change

* Shorter-term reforms and measures which are worth fighting for

What next?

* Building support within planning, among communities and activists, among politicians

(This meeting mainly targeted at planners)

* Debating and improving the manifesto

Hugh Ellis – head of planning at TCPA

TCPA is at the moment trying to re-discover, re-validate, its radical roots in land reform movements in the UK and has produced a CD of songs and talks on this theme, going back to the Diggers on Box Hill – ironically the locality with private house prices now so high that total value in that one local authority area now exceeds (?).

Strongly approve of this manifesto and offers help in developing and promulgating it. It could be art of offerng hope to people who have lost it.

Refers to the coalition’s announcement that there are to be two more Reviews of the UK planning system, on by Bis (the department of Business), the other by the Treasury. We need strength to resist all this.

Yvonne Rydin, Prof of Planning at the Bartlett and head of the Environment Institute at UCL

Strongly support most of the draft and will concentrate in speaking on the parts she’s not happy with.

Considers that too much importance is attached to the rôle of the PLAN and a commitment to comprehensive planning. Other aspects are far more important to develop.

Beware of public authorities / LAs as land owners: increasingly they choose to behave just like private owners. Anyway emphasis on public land use / release will have only a marginal / small impact.

We face a multiplicity of private development agents and badly need purpose-buit public development bodies to produce housing.

Most changes in cities are the cumulative effects of multiplicity of small decisions, incremental. Planning is bad at guiding / managing all that.

Community engagement etc: would be nice if it led to consensus on green objectives but actually we need better ways  to make decisions in a context of representative democracy and community interests. Plans tend not to be able to resolve conflicts.

Limit the production of plans to infrastructure issues – big infrastructure but also the schools, open spaces etc. And focus the production of plans on places where land ownership is consolidated or where there isa concerted development agency.  Elsewhere concentrate of forms of regulation which support the needs of localities (?communities).  Focus less on process.  Make redistributive aims of policy more explicit.[ And recommends forthcoming book Just Sustainability by Julian Agyeman, Zed Press ]

Anna Minton, writer, journalist

Who is this document for?  Clearly not politicians, who need half a page. You need different languages for different audiences and I strongly agree that this campaign has to be part of wider social movements.

Need to avoid a kind of nostalgia for some golden age (?post-1947) and admiration for local authorities. LAs can be just as bad as any private bodies nowadays.

The emphasis on public interest is good, though not yet a strong enough headline demand. It’s not clear enough, not captivating enough.  Concentrate on issues – like access to services, to commons, to housing – and demands for laws which support these rights and forms of access. [ Refers to law case in USA surrounding the re-definition of public interest to include the mere pursuit of economic growth. ]

The rôle of land ownership is crucial.  It has never been tackled here, at least since the Development Charge introduced by the 1947 planning act was repealed a couple of years later.

General discussion

Conflict – can’t resolve through normal consultation/participation, wasted time on ‘collaborative planning’.

How mobilise civil society? or look upwards to leaderships (all co-opted).  Need allies outside the political class. [Coalition for Independent Action speaker.]

Tim Marshall:  I probaby wrote some of the stuff on LAs.   The LPA & the Plan are weapons and they confer power, and you need power when you are facing a developer.

Martin Field: What sort of outcomes do we want? what do we need to do?   Could and should do that.

X argues that people do tend to accept decisions where they have had an input, when reasons are given for decisions. That process is important. Process can be a bastion against abuseof power by the powerful. But yes, we should focus on a few key issues like getting house prices down.  Elaborate these.

Judith Ryser: Have to write for specific audiences.. the present document is turgid, long, not aimed well.

“Strategy” – what should it mean? Key choices facing a city should be the core of any “strategic plan”. (Patsy Healey in a less rose-tinted moment) – M.E.

Colenutt: is there enough anger out there to put together to make a movement?  What do we do? How can we help people to believe that other thing could happen?

Need to do something like what the Spirit Level has been doing… Follow the research with local and concrete actions.

Janet Sutherland – can’t we tell some stories which answer what people find are the failing of planning – e.g. why the Battersea 9 Elms looks like being 80% sold on the open market to buyers in the far east…

March 20th Evening Standard public debate on the housing situation in London: be there, says someone.  Read Richard Reynolds, the End of the Homeowning Era ?? (I can’t find this – M.)

Anna Minton:  is this is a campaigning group or a policymaking group?  needs widening.

Ellis: what we need is a solid evidence-based case which we can refer to in defeating the Policy Exchange. Answers to Michael Ball etc.

Yvonne: don’t mention planning to wider audience.  Its a killer.

“Planning” and its demonisation:  The word is a killer.  Need to build arguments for what we want… Partly because the planning machinery has lost all its power. Power has passed to property interests.

Public health dimension being lost in today’s discourse.

Lucy Natarajan: note Taylor review deadline for responses is before 1 March so everyone should send in responses.

Write up some good stories.

Publish a version in the T&CP ?

Labour party wants ideas by June.

Compass + NEF etc as potential allies on some issues…  and for some of us Occupy, UK uncut, etc etc. Dangers of becoming just another think tank.  NB note that JRF and NEF are way ahead of Policy Exchange in a ranking of 40 thinktanks’ Twitter followers out yesterday: a very cheering list, for what it’s worth.

Anna Minton:  My book/paper on public interest will be out in April.  Do read it.  And note that, quite frankly, planners are often part of the problem.






Author: Editors


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