Recently by Alister Scott
Planning generates controversy, passion, money, winners and losers in equal measure. Given recent media comments it is timely to reflect on why and how we plan and who and what we plan for? Such planning fundamentals have got lost and confused in the murky political football of recent planning reforms and controversial planning applications which together fuel an unhealthy dualism between those that seek to develop and those who seek to protect. However, good development needs both.
The title of this blog is adapted from a quote by W.B Yeats and exposes a serious disconnect with the general direction of university education policy and practice in England. Increasingly, there is a focus on satisfying the customer; namely the student. Whilst this appears entirely logical there is a significant shift in process and outcomes of degrees that is turning our universities into establishments that resemble a secondary school rather than a place of academic challenge and critical thinking; a place where student 'buckets' are filled.
On Thursday May 2nd yet again local authority elections failed to capture the imagination of the majority of the electorate. Amidst all the analysis of the rise of UKIP and the wider malaise of the three main parties, there has been an absence of analysis of the most troublesome statistic that rears its head at every election again and again; voter turnout. This raises a key question of whatever happened to your vote.
In previous blogs for the Birmingham Post I have been critical of the way that current planning policy is 'disintegrated' leading to unnecessary conflict and poor policy outcomes which could be addressed by the use of more positive strategic planning processes. This blog reflects on an innovative process of spatial strategy formation that has been going on in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) as it finds its way in the messy institutional landscape in the West Midlands. On the 25th April at St Andrews I attended a planning summit to critically discuss progress and where I am pleased to say neither the goalposts nor the playing field were changed!
Eric Pickle's recent amendments to permitted development proposals to allow 'monster' domestic extensions up to eight metres without planning permission, now with the support of neighbours is to be presented to the House of Lords this week as they debate the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. This blog argues that this is a costly distraction from the growth agenda where the core issues of availability of finance and a clear coherent plan and institutional response for recovery are conveniently being bypassed. The Growth and Infrastructure Bill has a mishmash of proposals that together create uncertainty and confusion. Furthermore, it represents a government desperate for headline-grabbing initiatives rather than confronting the more powerful and financial interests that hold the key to unlocking the growth agenda.
Congratulations to the NPPF as it celebrates its one year birthday on the 27th March 2013. In what has been a challenging year for those dealing with shaping and implementing planning policy, it is opportune to examine its impact thus far. This blog post focusses on the Good, the Bad and the Nonsensical.
I walk down the high street of Rufopolis and note the run down, intimidating and decaying feel of boarded up shops amidst a scene of rubbish and dirt; a legacy from last nights turn out from the soup kitchens and food banks that now dominate this high street landscape. Here you can also find the many charity shops supporting an increasingly desperate and poor population; marginalised by society and unable to secure full time employment and access to social housing. Here is a high street that has failed to secure the necessary investment in regeneration which has fuelled a vicious cycle of decline and neglect.
Hark the Coalition Government does sing
Economic growth seems the priority for everything
We have no time for those who protest and complain
Lets dismiss their negativity with contempt and disdain
I am not a great fan of history; I had an uninspiring secondary school teacher! However, as an environmental and spatial planner I am increasingly drawn into historical nooks and crannies in order to better understand contemporary planning dilemmas. Thus, through looking back we can move forward more confidently having "learnt the lessons". Given the current state of 'omni-shambles' in the economic growth debate and policy response, as highlighted in my previous blogs here, this blog draws inspiration from a recent lecture I gave to my postgraduate students on rural history which bears uncanny parallels with today's debates.
On Monday November 5th 2012 some parliamentary fireworks were in evidence in the second reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. Following my recent blog arguing that the Bill is in urgent need of replanting, I offer the following reflections on the debate and its wider implications for the current government agenda on planning and growth.
On the 18th October 2012 a new Bill was launched to help put growth firmly back on the agenda. This Bill represents a missed opportunity to help develop planning as a core component of the growth agenda ensuring a focus towards sustainable development. Instead we see a well-rehearsed fix set within more top down control of development matters which raises more questions than it answers. Today there are likely to be some fireworks as the Bill receives its second reading in Parliament.
As a planner I am very concerned at how political short termism is hijacking the planning system and ignoring the excellent examples out there in the real world of growth and development. Such interventions are dangerous distractions and have the ability to derail some real progress that is being made.
This blog is based on a talk I gave to the Planning and Development Association Meeting University of Birmingham 19th October 2012.
As this government embarks on a series of further ad-hoc iterations and changes to planning policy it is timely to present two simple stories that together offer an important critique for the way planning is currently carried out and the way that uncertainty is becoming the real enemy of enterprise.
In my view good policy is made when there is robust questioning and open debate about the merits or otherwise of particular interventions. Naturally any policy or decision will lead to winners and losers and it is important to understand who these are and how these vary across time and space. As part of this process we see many organisations arguing how the perceived impact of proposed policies or plans will/have affect them. These "champions" are numerous and diverse and form part of a wider governance agenda that is both complex and messy, but reflects the political arena in which policy is now fashioned.
Three experts in the built and natural environment at Birmingham School of the Built Environment write openly to the government asking for a policy pause to halt the ill-thought out direction of recent planning reforms.
Barely is the ink dry on the long awaited planning reforms of the Coalition government with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), when this week the Chancellor instigated further changes in order to boost economic growth. Supported by Cameron and Clegg et al., we also witnessed a concerted attack on the planning profession with, seemingly, a renewed appetite to make planners the scapegoat for the economy's woes. At Birmingham School of the Built Environment at Birmingham City University we pride ourselves on training the next generation of built and natural environment professionals, equipping them with the skills to mediate between the competing demands of people, place and environment. One module I manage is called Policies and Plans. This uses theory and practice to identify what constitutes a 'good' plan or policy. The recent package of anti-planning reforms announced this week provide an interesting example for this blog
Last week I took the government's advice and had a holiday in the UK. It was a week away on the Pembrokeshire Coast doing a combination of coastal walking, swimming and wildlife watching. Wearing my tourist hat it has always amazed me how tourism as an industry has such a poor profile as an agent of economic growth, yet ironically it is one of the world's biggest industries and is vital for UK PLC. In the UK we have a truly amazing range of environmental assets that bring people from all over the world to explore our magical Isles. It may also surprise you to know we also have high quality assets on our own West Midland doorstep.
The papers are alive with the sound of a beleaguered Chancellor scrambling for quick fixes to stimulate the economy, boost growth and declining popularity ratings. Top of this agenda is the reform of the planning system (again!), the so called 'enemy of enterprise' where the Green Belt has been singled out for special attention. Here speculation is rife that Green Belt zoning will be relaxed with major housing developments becoming national infrastructure developments thus taking the decision away from local authorities in favour of national government. In a huge sop against localism it signals the government's true intent and political posturing over allowing local people a real chance to influence their futures.
The recent talks at Rio+20 on sustainable developments have been criticised by many for achieving very little in terms of tackling the crisis facing the planet. In my view the reasons for this are clear and embedded in the way we communicate science and policy to public demanding critical self-examination and reflection.
Last week in my gym I saw a notice stating how the gym was going to be improved that night with a major re-organisation of equipment and that this represented an exciting new development in the evolution of the gym and that all members would benefit.
My students have just completed a critical assessment of Birmingham Big City Plan. This forms part of a module called Policy and Plans and the challenge was to look critically at real live plans and assess whether they were effective or, as Baldrick would say, cunning plans. At the heart of the Big City Plan lies a vision to reposition Birmingham as a global city. This resonates with the current growth agenda pursued by the government and the creation of the Birmingham and Greater Solihull and Black Country Local Enterprise partnerships provide delivery vehicles to help achieve this. However, in all this talking and planning for economic growth, investment and regeneration one word is conspicuous by its absence; nature.
A leading planning academic at Borsetshire City University has expressed grave concerns over the planning processes used to assess the Mega Dairy proposal at Home Farm by Borsetshire Land by Brian Aldridge.
"The proposal clearly has not followed the proper legal channels opening up the way for a legal challenge to the local government ombudsman whatever the ultimate planning decision. This would result in considerable legal fees against the council at a time of unprecedented cutbacks in council spending".
Following my blog last week on the impending publication of the NPPF we have had to wait a little while, but on a glorious sunny day on Tuesday 27th March the airwaves were alive with the sound of planning reform and intensive media debate and speculation. So we now have a finished 50 page document which simplifies and streamlines the existing 1000 pages of detailed planning guidance with the explicit aim of allowing a pro-growth agenda albeit with the public at the heart of the system. This document is now operational and, as such, produces one of the biggest changes to the planning system since its inception in 1947.
Later today we will get some detail into the long awaited final National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). As I sit typing I can hear the various protagonists preparing their verbal weaponry for whatever eventually emerges. It is a complex battleground with the future direction of planning at stake. However, with arguments raging on both sides about the possible positive or negative impacts of the NPPF, there has been one dimension to the NPPF debate that has escaped significant scrutiny. I refer to the process by which the NPPF itself has come into being.
This blog forms the last piece relating to my recent panel appearance on 26th January 2012 as part of the Great Regional Debate hosted by the Royal Town Planning Institute. This blog responds to two questions.
How do the panel feel the ordinary local voter can better make the connection between what we do as professions and the value we bring to the sub - region so that there is a greater appreciation of local skills and the potential of localism'
This blog is the second of four which relate to my recent panel appearance on 26th January in the Great Regional Debate sponsored by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). This brought together experts from RTPI, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Royal Institute of British Architects, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute. This blog focuses on a question put by Dan Roberts of Lichfield District Council
Do panel members feel that HS2 will contribute to or counteract a West Midlands 'brain drain'? And why?
This blog forms one of four which relate to my recent panel appearance on 26th January as part of the Great Regional Debate sponsored by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
This brought together experts from RTPI, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Royal Institute of British Architects, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute.
Each blog captures my response to the question asked and collectively contributes to a key debate about the future of the West Midlands region.
Q1 Is there a brain drain from the West Midlands?
This question poses the idea that there is a brain drain. However, we need to be careful that we identify clear evidence of this before intervening in a policy sense. So set within this note of caution I offer the following points.
The HS2 decision today has generated a huge amount of controversy with passionate arguments for and against the development over the last few months.
Such is the stuff of planning. It is about making difficult decisions which will impact on people and the environment, but crucially should benefit us as a society.
Inevitably, not all people will be happy with the decision reached.
However within our decision making processes there should be sufficient clarity and transparency so that people can understand the decision set within a managed process of dialogue, consultation and listening.
In particular there should be a clear linkage with other policy approaches that allows people to see the big picture even if they disagree with the final decision.
So let's examine this in more detail.
I deliver a module to built environment students at Birmingham City University entitled 'Policies and Plans' in which we look critically at what makes a good policy or plan.
Baldrick in Blackadder provided initial inspiration as he always seemed to have a cunning plan to get out of the crisis situations that invariably resulted.
However, a good plan is dependent on a clear vision, good intelligence, assessment of alternatives, involvement of affected parties and effective review processes.
Crucially, the process by which the plan is produced is every bit as important as the plan itself.
Hark the Select Committee Angels Sing: Planning Reforms need significant rewriting
Christmas has come early for those of us who care about the planning system in England.
The Select Committee has published their report on the government proposed National Planning Policy Framework and in their 81 pages of critical analysis they confirm that the NPPF is not fit for purpose.
- The NPPF was short but vague leading to uncertainty and ambiguity
- The definition of sustainable development presented was inadequate as it was based on economic development
- The default answer to development being yes was misplaced.
- The golden thread of sustainable development was not suitable for decision making as it was too vague
- The lack of a town centre first and brown field first policies were leading to increased pressures on greenfield sites
- The attacks on planners as the enemies of enterprise were found to be baseless with no evidence to support allegations that planning inhibited growth or development.
The recommendations focus attention on the local plan as the decision making tool for sustainable development with the ability to tweak and adapt this to the local situation where there is clear evidence to do so.