chapter  1
21 Pages

WHAT IS SPATIAL PLANNING?

This book is about spatial planning in England. The formal introduction of spatial planning in England was marked through the implementation of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, although much of the development in the thinking about the role of spatial planning came before this and there has been more since. Many have attempted to define spatial planning, and it is most frequently characterised as being integrated and concerned with delivery. Its origins are usually seen as being within the European spatial planning context but, as this book shows, English spatial planning has a more international provenance. A new form of spatial planning is developing that could be described as hybrid or transitional and, in this emergent form, it is likely to shape spatial planning in England for the next ten years. The spatial turn in 2004 in England represented a significant shift in planning’s role within the local governance structure shifting from a set of regulatory policies to being a delivery mechanism. Years of Thatcherism’s promotion of the market and undermining the state from 1979-1997 resulted in planning’s retreat. Achieving the proposals of development plans was primarily in the hands of the private sector, whilst in the public sector, the economic crisis meant that delivery was through regeneration. Yet, both in 1947 and 1970, planning had been secured as a key delivery tool, particularly for expenditure and investment in publicly funded infrastructure. In the longer term, the abdication of the direct delivery mode for planning between 1979-2004 may be seen to be the deviant period. History will decide. The shift from delivery to policy in the post-1979 period has left a legacy which continues to work through the system. The residualisation of the proactive role of planning and the foregrounding of private sector planning proposals, often at the margins of planning policy, meant that the planning system was conducted in a regulatory space. Once policy and plans were prepared, the focus in the system was directed towards upholding them. Developers sought to stretch them to their limits. The benefits of exploiting the conditions of an imperfect market came from the private sector, where breaking a plan policy could considerably increase land and development values. For many planners, the regulatory phase of planning has been their only experience of practice. In more economically buoyant areas, planners have left the role of implementing development to the private sector. Alongside this, the planning role

has been focussed on extracting developer surplus to mitigate the effects of development. In less economically buoyant areas, the leadership for development has been primarily through public sector regeneration. In England, most local authority areas have as much social and economic variance within them as between them, so both approaches to development were frequently run in parallel. In 1979, most planners were employed in the public sector but by 2009, more members of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) were employed in the private sector, albeit many working for public sector clients as the mixed economy has developed. The introduction of spatial planning in 2004 was not accompanied by any major fanfare. Those involved in implementing the new system, at all spatial scales and in all sectors, were unprepared for what was to follow. As a response, Government has had to make its intended role for spatial planning clearer whilst planning practitioners are beginning to develop this new role and the associated activities that it brings. Yet this is not a completed story. The history of planning is one of change, progression and, at times, returning to recapture old skills and experience. Planning’s history is one of adaptation and change. Planning has held the thread of improving places and ensuring the best use of land and buildings, whether through development or protection, through regulation or promotion. The era of planning when regeneration led to delivery, particularly in the 1970-1990s, was critical at the time, but the underlying Nimbyism and revolt of middle England against planning represented not only an attack on change but also something deeper. It was a concern that places had become secondary to the market. Places were perceived as being less important. Those areas not in the main focus for change were somehow second best or received less attention. Planning’s regulatory character allowed less time to consider the cumulative impact of many individual decisions in localities apart from those that had specific designations such as Conservation Areas. Spatial planning can address this in its new role in which, together with a fresh approach to development management, provides a key opportunity to ‘make everywhere somewhere’ (Morphet 2007b). Spatial planning brings together the multiplicity of decisions about place, whether through planning or through the activities of other organisations; it makes places more than the sum of individual decisions. Spatial planning is a key component in this approach to shaping and making places.