pnuk Sheffield launch meeting

Andy Inch sheffield introducing the manifesto on land and planning drafted by the Planners Network UK. It’s not finished and only a start. It represents as far as we could get among a few of us 4±2…and needs more inputs now.  Public Interest securely at the front, challenging neo-liberal perspectives on urban and regional policy.

Land question almost tackled in 1947 Act nationalisation of development rights…and look at how far backwards (on that issue) we have moved since then. Contemporary debates are so far away from tackling the fundamental problems of land and urban development.

Who should we be addressing?  What should the next steps be? Julian Dobson, Jamie Gough, Aidan White


Julian Dobson Director of ‘Urban Pollinators’

writes and thinks about regeneration, now working on high streets and town centres.  I welcome this and there is a gap in any debate on land issues.  Quotes idea of jubilee from Jewish Torah: every 50 years land should revert to original owners???  Idea of preventing speculation. Probably never put into practice.

Commenting on HMR in north of England. Conceived in conditions which had changed by the time the scheme was launched, and which have rather returned now that the HMR has been scrapped. Considers markets are quite good at telling you about supply and demand but not in making places. Big isue of what markets should and shouldn’t do.

Democracy is a welcome focus in the manifesto.  UKIP came second yesterday (in a UK by-election). What about democracy which you disagree with?  You can’t persuade people to change their minds using 1985 language.

Commons:  how can we use this concept and develop it?  It’s a very strong theme.  Access needs to be brought back into the idea of ownership.  Bringing rights to roam back. Can we get public benefit covenants into our landownership system?  No traction for 1940s/50s ideas of land nationalisation, so need to think what we could do on the way….

Jamie Gough, Sheffield University

Tremendous document, especially first section on public interest, commons, space, as against private interest. Also puts “planning” in the wider context of society and economy…which is done especially well when it comes to the issues of land, ownership, income, assets and speculation, regional disparities.

Articulation between scales is very important and difficult. Document wrestles with it well in some cases, problematically elswehere.

Land and buildings and their planning / link to social and econ processes. Theorising it round Q “Are land and buildings exceptional in a capitalist society?’  or are they just normal.?  Answer is YES they are exceptional but we must remember that they are ALSO integrated in everything else.  Land value represents ground rent which is “unearned” – just appropriation of value. Exceptional also because conflicts between use and exchange. Also social nature of land is so evident: what happens on a site reflects and affects adjoining and remote sites: intense social interaction of places.For these reasons there is a popular politics of land and buildings.  The value of land derives from labour and work in the world, so we have to link land and buildings to the work of the whole society… so this politics of land and buildings needs to be linked back to the politics of work and unpaid work and reproduction.

What about the democratic control of the housebuilding industry? Such a scandal. Need a public control. What about food retailing too? Buses, whose privatisation has been a disaster. Employment and its spatial distribution is raised in manifesto but not really dealt with, and the distribution of jobs underlies the rent patterns in UK.

Aidan While, University of Sheffield

Document didn’t do anything for me, though it should. It does echo what I believe but it’s not how we begin in shaping the debate. Language is difficult. Slippery. e.g. State control v community empowerment. Is local democracy / local state useful / redeemable /.   Hard to trace these things through the document and join them up. Suggests separating out the parts…  Likes the concept “collective” as spanning a variety of entities including local governments. Shorter sharper document needed.

General discussion

Malcolm: audience important when we have govt not believing in planning at all.  Public interest important but will not bring people in…  Concept of “place” should do it?  People very animated about this.Is a state-led collective action the way, or the only way?  Resources: local state and its land ownership is one starting point.

Anzir Bodo:  Economic arguments for making planning better in terms of making better local economy, differentiating localities. Small firms and local enterprises rather than corporates.

n: I’m an activist, not a planner. I work on minerals which the manifesto missed. People assume that their surroundings are natural / permanent, and don’t realise that if they want things to stay the same they’ll have to give up private time and spend a lot of time n public arena campaigning.

JG. “public interest” a hackneyed phrase and has been much abused. We need a formulation which makes it clear what our social values are.  “Better place”?  =more swanky? Not sure many people’s concerns are framed in terms of ‘place’ or ‘space’?  Could we use ‘space of the many not the few’? echoing #Occupy. Essentially a class principle basis for thinking about the public interest and the commons.

There is room for documents aimed at planners, local govt etc.  But separately there is a need to link radical thought on planning to the rest of radical politics, e.g. cuts campaigns.  Those ARE the struggles, mostly with strong spatial aspect – e.g. Lewisham hospital closure – e.g. sheffield childcare cuts campaigns.

JD:  “public benefit” as in UK charity law rather than “public interest”. Different languages reevant in diff contexts.

Sam: big ownership issue at the moment is over digital commons and IPR. Is this another way in?  Much linked to #occupy etc.

Andy: in this land of slippery words, how could we all agree on anything? How does planning get articulated through all these social links?

Tim: learning in Heather Campbell’s course about 1947… and the very collective post-war solidarity. That’s the impetus needed.

ME: all the words are slippery and damaged but may be usable in relation to speciic audiences. ? Maybe need a glossary unpacking the abuse of each term.

Anzir: then there is a clash of local public interests and national public interests… JG: good stuff in §5 governance at various scales but more is needed. Neighbourhood/local scale is important for popular planning , democratic planning and practically people can go to meetings locally and they have so much knowledge. But the larger levels need popular planning levels and systems…  AI: the UK polity is so thin with just LAs and then the national govt and nothing in between, few diagonal links… AB big cities try to micro-manage locaities (like Leeds, Bham) while in some places (leicester) a tiny inner-city LAs.  ME reports the inter-scale discussions which take place in just space, much more nuanced and creative than the inter-scale conflicts reflected through representative local governments.  Note also EU rules and procedures as progressive tools we can use.

Danger of defending LG and public ownership – seeming to be defensive of existing versions of these institutions which are often toxic or part of the problem, or wholly captured…

There was a thng called the commonwealth party

BC: we just do have to rebut the lies and rubbish which is being disseminated. An immediate challenge. JG agrees – though had read the manifesto as being long-term in its main thrust. We could do something called “a defence of planning”. ((AI a parallel mess in the Scottish govt.)

AI: Yes, and part of that is offering the narratives which do account for things being as they are. Ironies involved like the amount of planning done by Tesco, EDF, Amazon…

(Side conversation: on HMR read book by Chris Allen, now at Liverpool and correspond with Lee Crookes at Sheffield whose PhD was on it.)

“PNUK is not terribly famous”  There is NEF, IPPR, Class, as possible avenues / allies.  TCPA journal probably willing to publish 1000 words…  What about other people?  Is there a need for a unified manifesto? Or a wide proliferation of materials which can be drawn upon by a variety of campaigns and groups – many of which don’t think of themselves as “planning”.

TM:  look at the PN (north america) statement of principles… as one possible kind of document.

One speaker from Sheffield – PN is a great resource for people, including a lot of critical students, wanting alternative perspectives…

Bob Colenutt: wants to target the labour party, with a fringe meeting at the Labour LG conference.

Another channel is giving evidence to House of Commons committees – e.g. the one on the Planning and Infrastructure Bill just recently to which Steve gave evidence.

Finally there was some discussion of holding a big conference….


Author: Editors


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