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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.
Have you ever been to one of those dinners where you get placed next to somebody you don't know?
If you have, you'll know that inevitably there can only be three outcomes:
There are the brilliant times when you meet somebody who you find an instant rapport with. Or, at least, can match each other drink-for-drink and spar in mutual banter for the night. It's great fun either way. You swap business cards and, depending whether you actually like them, will afterwards make an effort to keep in touch.
The second variety is where you're bored to tears by your kismet companion. This happens before the main course even hits the linen, by which point you're planning an inventive excuse to excuse yourself. You've probably already sent a shifty text under your napkin to a colleague or mate asking them to ring you urgently so you can duck out. If you haven't, you're thinking about "just nipping to the loo", never to return.
The most awkward of all though is where you're placed next to somebody you really don't like. At all. The difference here versus the other two coping options is that you have no escape. Perhaps you're attending a mid-week work conference and this is one of the compulsory events. You know your early exit would reflect badly on you. So you've got to just grin and bear it.
At this moment you have two choices. You can tell your forced dinner companion exactly how you feel. But, as you're unable to take Option Two of a hasty yet dignified exit, this wouldn't be a wise move. So you have to sit there and put up with it.
Thankfully, this has only ever happened to me twice in my life so far. Somebody who won't agree to disagree, but will vehemently keep hammering home their point in a hope you'll be swayed.
It's uncomfortable at the time, but the moment you leave the room you'll want to let off steam. You'll call your partner or a friend and vent. Then calm down. Move on.
A few weeks later you might even make light of the entire ridiculous scenario at other similar event as a throwaway anecdote: "You won't believe who I was stuck with the other day". A good bit of gossip does tend to lubricate some otherwise dull-as-dishwater dos.
On the front cover of most of today's papers, Baron Feldman of Elstree is accused of making just that type of disclosure. He allegedly called grassroots voters "swivel-eyed loons". He denies it.
Whether what is reported about Lord Feldman is true or not, it should be a stiffener for us. It's easy spout the verbal equivalent of green ink if you've got yourself riled recently. But, if you're not careful, you could soon find yourself as the type of dinner companion others start moaning about. If that happens there's no telling who'll listen to (and repeat) their tales.
Best to take an antacid and get rid of the bile straight away.
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two events this week marked Birmingham as a significant science centre.
The first was at two in the morning on 16 June when the spanking new Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham opened its doors for its first A&E patients. Much has been made of the facilities in the handsome building which dominates the Edgbaston-Selly Oak skyline, and rightly so. There's nothing new, however, in the world-class quality of the staff, both the clinicians and the researchers behind the scenes blazing their trail in the regional universities.
The second event was less dramatic, but significant nonetheless. It was the inaugural meeting of Science Capital, a not-for-profit organisation bringing scientists, business experts, policy makers and financial advisors together.
High Speed 2 presents great opportunities to redress the UK's North-South imbalance. But it can only capitalise on these opportunities if it's part of a bigger agenda than getting people from A to B.
In an article about High Speed 2 in Friday's London Evening Standard, Andrew Neather asserted that getting to the Bull Ring ("but hey! did you really want to go?") in less than an hour wasn't worth the ÃÂ£30bn ticket, echoing Paul Dale's blog though from a perspective much closer to St Pancras and HS1.
Kraft Chief Exectuive Irene Rosenfeld has sent a letter to Business Secretary Lord Mandelson insisting that the proposed takeover of Cadbury is "good news for British manufacturing" and promising to act with "respect for Cadbury's heritage, people and identity".
While it is a personal letter, and I don't believe it has been publicly released yet, it is in effect the promise Kraft is making to the British government and Britain as a whole.
Here is what it says:
Rt Hon Lord Mandelson
Secretary of State
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
1 Victoria Street
19 January 2010
Dear Secretary of State:
Further to my letter to you of December 10th, you will know that this morning we announced the detailed terms of our Final Offer for Cadbury and that the board of Cadbury unanimously recommends Cadbury Securityholders to accept the terms of this Offer.
I am confident that the combination of Kraft Foods and Cadbury is good news for both companies. As we have said, the Offer reflects our view of the strength of Cadbury's business, its brands and the future potential for growth. I also believe that, over the long term, this is good news for British manufacturing and will enable us to accelerate growth beyond what the two companies could achieve alone.
I recognise the concerns of the UK government and I can again assure you of our intentions to proceed with sincere respect for Cadbury's heritage, people and identity.
Irene B Rosenfeld
The Centre for Cities report : University Challenge: Growing the knowledge economy in Birmingham was published yesterday. It's a disconcerting read, shaking what the city believes about itself.
Manufacturing output static. The regional output gap at ÃÂ£15bn. 30% workless in the region, close to 40% in Birmingham.* Of the employed in 2008, only 15% in manufacturing, a figure which has fallen a further 11% this year. (see WMRO)
The seemingly relentless grip of old-style manufacturing on our psyche may shift at last.
Having raised the issue of food security (along with a low-cost, convivial alternative-style means of regeneration) as a topic for their Annual Conference last week with publication of Roger Levett's essay in Fit for Purpose (see blog entry), the WMRO appears to have promptly ignored it all.
Food after all, appears as if by magic. When the Conference delegates ate their lunch, I'll bet they thought little, if at all, about the fragility of the just-in-time systems that got it there, let alone where on earth it originally came from.
Or, as pertinently, where it all went to. This includes what the food companies chuck at source or in transit, the freegan stuff the supermarkets discard, the 30% we throw away, and the dung we produce.
There was on-line comment and a flurry of emails after last week's entry Green shoots of recovery. This was about Roger Levett's essay on guerrilla spud-growing in the WMRO publication West Midlands: Fit for the Future.
The WM Regional Observatory has published a 10-essay collection under the title West Midlands: Fit for the future: Positioning the region for economic recovery.
These essays are to be discussed at their Annual Conference on 20th October.
Only one contribution, however, adds something surprising, even startling to the debate. It is by Roger Levett.
But let's start with the Foreword by Ian Austin MP. I quote: we know what we need to do to make the region the workshop of the world again.
We know? Eh? Workshop of the world? Which century is this man in? Or is he merely pandering to some vague nostalgia about what went on in Matthew Boulton's time?