FROM NEW RIGHT TO NEW LEFT
Views on New Labour, as with the preceding Conservative administrations, are seldom ambiguous. It is difficult to be detached and assess New Labour’s impact and legacy objectively when issues such as the Iraq war continue to cast a long shadow. Putting this to one side, there are other problems even if we focus upon planning, and there are a number of possible narratives concerning the experiences of planning under Labour. One view might concern a ‘renaissance of planning’ and how, under Labour, it was again in the ascendency. New challenges and issues around climate change and sustainable development coupled with the need for multi-scalar and cross-sectoral working provided a heightened importance for planning through the notion of ‘spatial planning’. By 2010 planning had emerged from the New Labour era in a position of strength and influence, charged with delivering and coordinating important elements of the government’s objectives. Another possible view could be of ‘business as usual’: planning remained unreconstructed, slow and cumbersome. Despite the opportunity and substantial additional resources, planning failed to evolve from a ‘command and control’ form of regulation and embrace more networked and flexible forms of governance. A further perspective could highlight the democratic deficit within planning as it became a form of neoliberal, spatial governance, paying lip service to the wishes of local communities and attempting to force through change and development. Planners became complicit in the ‘roll out’ of neoliberalism, working closely with new, unelected and unaccountable bodies such as Regional Development Agencies and the Infrastructure Planning Commission to bypass local authorities and people. Yet another view could be that planning survived an inchoate scattergun of policies and initiatives based upon competing and irreconcilable objectives for and views of planning. Emphases upon increased public involvement and speed of decisionmaking, a ‘step-change’ in housing delivery and the protection of green belts,
sustainable development and economic competitiveness provided an unachievable framework for planning and planners. These and other objectives, combined with systemic reform – particularly in the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act – and a development boom, meant that the inevitable outcome was always likely to be failure.