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Modalities of Planning: A Reflection on the Persuasive Powers of the Development Plan

Author(s): Jonathan Murdoch, Simone Abram and Terry Marsden

Source: The Town Planning Review, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Apr., 1999), pp. 191-212
Published by: Liverpool University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40111757
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TPR, 70 (2) 1999



Modalities of planning
A reflection on the persuasive powers of
the development plan
This paper seeks to investigate the relationships between plans and th
contexts. An approach is developed which places the plan's technical
argumentation - its 'modalities' - into the social contexts which shape
interpretation and use. The Structure Plan review process in Buckingh
a county subject to long-standing development pressures and Green
constraints, is used as an example. The concern with constraint in th
Belt manifest in the plan and the efforts made by the development lob
undermine them are examined closely. A highly complex set of intera
relations is identified.

It is hard to imagine planning without development plans. Yet, while plans are
central to planning, the detailed analysis of these documents has remained a
curiously neglected area of planning studies. Even in the 'post-modern' era,
when we might expect plans would be ripe for 'deconstruction' (as perhaps
'fictional texts'), few analysts have seriously investigated their discursive powers.
While we can only speculate on the reasons for this relative neglect, we might ask
whether it stems from a perception, among planning academics, that plans are
not especially 'powerful'? Given the obvious importance of development plans,
such a question might seem quite misplaced. Yet, surprisingly there is some
evidence that such a view prevails even in the work of those who have given
plans serious analytical attention.
To take just one notable example, Healey (1993) has argued that in recent

Jonathan Murdoch is Reader, and Terry Marsden is Professor in the Department of City and
Regional Planning, University of Wales Cardiff, PO Box 906, Cardiff CF1 3YN; Simone Abram is
a lecturer in the Department of Geography, University of Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2
Paper submitted February 1998; revised paper received September 1998 and accepted October


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times the status of plans has become, in certain respects, somewhat diminish
Healey argues that, traditionally, development plans were regarded as 'direct
statements' wherein planning authorities used 'scientific knowledge' to exerc
control over development. Now, however, these 'rational' plans have been
replaced by 'post-positivist', 'interactional' texts which emerge from the
relationships between planning authorities and developers, community interests
and the many other groups and actors concerned with the spatial organisation of
places. Thus plans 'perform different roles within different relationships' and
'plan preparers may construct plans which combine different messages to
different audiences' (Healey, 1993, 83). Because the plan is now seen to play an
interactive rather than directive role, it should no longer be assessed as an
authoritative document, reflecting planners' power to intervene effectively in
the world; it is rather an 'arena of struggle' with 'different interests competing
to determine its content' (Healey, 1993, 84; see also Kenny, 1992; Tett and
Wolfe, 1991). Planners, planning and plans are, therefore, seen as being in a
highly interactive relationship with their external environment; they can no
longer be assumed to carry the same degree of authority as under the
'modernist' phase of 'directive', 'scientific' and 'rational' planning procedures
and mentalities.
These concerns form the backdrop to the analysis of development plans
presented in this paper. Our purpose here is to further an understanding of the
relationship between plans and their external environments. We aim to explore
in some detail the extent to which plans can be seen as reflections of the 'outside'
world and the extent to which the constructions of the world enshrined in plans
'act' upon the social relations surrounding them. We are particularly interested
in showing how the narratives which run through the plan affect the networks of
actors involved in plan-making processes while also showing how such
narratives are simultaneously affected by the activities of these actors. In
short, we ask whether plans might still be considered in some circumstances to
be 'directive statements' or whether they are always now 'arenas of struggle'. In
order to investigate how far plans might still function as 'directive statements'
we consider their powers of persuasion and ask: how far can plans shape the
social contexts in which they operate?
The first section briefly considers the types of knowledge that generally go
into plans and assesses how this knowledge might be most usefully investigated.
The analysis concentrates on the construction of arguments within plans which
are assessed in terms of 'modalities'. That is, an attempt is made to show how the
arguments which compose the plan's central narrative are built up so that, in
some sense, they become irresistible. The starting point here is the view that a
narrative can only be sustained if the arguments and assumptions upon which it
is built can also be sustained. It is further argued that plans might usefully be
analysed as politico-technical 'hybrids': that is, seen as combining, in a rather
unique and special way, political and technical considerations. In practice, the
two domains may be impossible to sift out, yet for analytical purposes it is useful
to separate them for this allows a consideration of the extent to which plans draw
their strength from the complex arrangements of political and technical

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resources to be found 'in' the te

claims which 'surround' the t
The second part of the paper
elaboration of a case study dr
review process.1 The review
arguments rehearsed in the earl
intents and purposes, 'up for gr
text and the social relations in
the review process unfolds, it
tions that are pushed by the soc
woven into a coherent framework in which certain modalities become
consistently pre-eminent or whether the modalities remain fluid and co
In short, the paper follows the construction of a specific plan and illustrate
its modalities are assembled and how these are both resisted and reinforced
range of actors surrounding the review. The paper concludes with some thou
on the persuasive powers of contemporary development plans.

Powers of persuasion and the politico-technical nature of

development plans
There can be little doubt that a reassessment of development plans has been
prompted by the 'argumentative turn' in planning theory (Fischer and Forester,
1993). Under the umbrella of 'communicative planning theory' (Forester, 1989;
Innes, 1995) or 'collaborative planning' (Healey, 1998), plans have now come to
be seen as 'processes of argumentation' (Healey, 1993) in which different
interests compete to determine the content. According to Healey (1993, 84) 'the
analytical task which this conception leads to is to identify which interests have
been incorporated in the plan'. It is not hard to see how such an analytical
concern with 'interests' leads on to an assessment of 'winners' and 'losers' and
ultimately to questions about the democratic nature of planning. Thus, Healey
(1993, 86) goes on to argue that 'the evaluative task is ... to assess the
democracy of the plan'. It is this type of evaluative activity that has taken
planning theory into the realms of normative assessment. Drawing heavily on
the work of Jurgen Habermas, Healey and others have sought to show how plans
'both express established rules and seek to challenge them' (Healey, 1993, 86).
In their assessments of plans the Habermasian planning theorists have thus
begun to seek out some kind of alternative rationality, one which emphasises the
democratic potential of plan-making rather than the instrumental usage of the
plan itself (Healey, 1995). As part of this endeavour, they stress the plan's role as

1 In the study, which was conducted between May 1994 and May 1995, around 30 in depth
interviews were conducted with planning officers, local politicians, action groups, amenity
societies, developers and so on - all the chief protagonists in the Structure Plan Review process in
Buckinghamshire (1990-96). Quotations are used here from these interviews, which were all tape-
recorded. Further findings from the project can be found in Abram et al. (1996; 1998) and
Murdoch et al. (1999).

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an arena of consensus building between a range of different interests of

stakeholders (Healey, 1998).
There has been much criticism of this work, notably from those planning
theorists inspired by Foucault (Richardson, 1996; Flyvberg, 1998; Flyvberg and
Richardson, 1998; Tewdr- Jones and Allmendiger, 1998). The main points of
contention between the two theoretical 'schools' seems to be the place of 'power'
in planning and plan making (Hillier, 1993). While it is evident that scholars
such as Forester and Healey are quite aware that planning itself is a potential site
for the imposition of power relations, their normative concern to build up the
scope for consensus generation within planning practice arouses suspicion on the
part of Foucauldian theorists who tend to see planning as 'saturated' by power
relations. They therefore treat sceptically any assertion of consensual practices
that somehow lie outside power relations. As Richardson (1996, 289) puts it: 'we
should see a planning debate not just in terms of possibilities for consensus
through communication, but as a debate fundamentally shaped by powerful
discourses, each with its own substantive content as its internal and external
power/knowledge dynamics'. By drawing attention to such issues, the
Foucauldian approach seems primarily concerned to demonstrate that any
consensus can only be achieved in the context of a power-riven planning
domain. Allen (1996, 336), for instance, believes development plans articulate a
variety of power relationships with developers, communities and individual
citizens and shows that these relationships circumscribe the activities of these
actors within the planning process. Thus, any movement towards consensus
needs to be undertaken in the full knowledge that any alternative rationality of
planning may simply be another imposition of power relations.2
It is not our intention to take sides in this 'debate'; rather this paper tries to
adapt insights from each 'camp' in order to assess the status of development
plans. On the one hand, there is a desire to reveal how development plans move
among the multitude of interests that surround their (re)formulation. On the
other hand, there is an interest in the power of plans, that is, in the way plans act
upon those interests and in the ways in which they define participants'
capabilities and scope for action. This paper therefore seeks to assess the
persuasive powers of development plans in contexts where a variety of actors are
seeking to determine their content: in short, to investigate how plans configure
social action and how social action configures plans.

2 The issues in dispute between the Habermasian and Foucauldian analysts are less clear cut
than many of the protagonists often pretend. While there is no doubting the differences in the
philosophical legacies - about which much has been written - when it comes to the actual analysis
of planning and planning practice many of the fairly fundamental philosophical distinctions seem
to be rendered less problematic. For instance, it is clear that Forester and Healey are very much
concerned about the power relations which shape the planning process, more so than the
Foucauldians are sometimes willing to admit. The nub of the debate therefore seems to turn on
how a normative theory can be constructed out of a theory of power. While Habermas and his
followers undoubtedly underplay the differences power can make, Foucauldian scholars are
usually rather shy about engaging with normative theory.

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In the next section a case stud

In assessing the power of the
beginning, to the point when a
rendered into the form of a pla
being as a fully-fledged object
which at one stage is nothing
comes to take on the status of
to resist and direct the vario
it - essentially it shows how a
being a 'directive statement'.
It is considered that plans can
become, in some sense, 'factu
degree, unquestioned and take
making of plans in the same wa
scientific or technical fact. Th
powers of the development p
literatures, it is proposed to
sociological analysis of 'science
and maintenance of facts - and
'modalities' (Latour, 1987, ch
work that is necessary, or has
facts. Latour, when speaking of
in the following way:

We will call positive modalit

from its conditions of prod
other consequences necessa
sentences that lead a statement in the other direction towards its conditions
of production and that explain in detail why it is solid or weak instead of
using it to render some consequences more necessary (emphasis in the
original). (Latour, 1987, 23)
Positive modalities come at the end of the productive process; no more has to
be said about them; they have become facts or, as Latour (1987, 131) puts it,
'black boxes', and they are largely unquestioned. The efforts required to make
them facts are no longer evident, for they are now hidden behind the claims. Once
established in this way these facts can be used in the text to take the reader
'downstream', or to more claims, claims that may rest on layers of factual 'black
boxes'. As Latour says, to make a statement factual 'you insert it [into the text] as
a closed, obvious, firm and packaged premise leading to some other less closed,
less obvious, less firm and less united consequence' (Latour, 1987, 25). As the
positive modalities build upon one another so they allow the progressive insertion
of other, linked modalities and the text begins to take on the likeness of a 'stream'.
The reader finds it hard to resist the stream's current; if the modalities have been
successfully assembled he or she should 'flow from the introduction to the
conclusion like a river flowing between artificial banks' (Latour, 1987, 58).
This account begins to illustrate how technical texts, such as plans, steer

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readers towards the desired conclusions. However, in order to fully appreci

the persuasive powers of such texts, it is necessary to look a little more closely at
how a reader might move in another direction through the text ('against t
stream') in an attempt to reach different conclusions. As far as plans are
concerned this is important, for these texts, while retaining a series of
technicalities and devices which aim to keep readers 'flowing downstream',
are, in the review stage at least, open to dispute. More precisely they are at once
closed (technical, made up of assemblies of 'facts') and open (their claims are
It is important to note here that the more technical the text the more effort is
required in negotiating its claims and any kind of real disputation will entail
mobilising large amounts of resources. This is because any serious disagreement
will most probably lead to the opening of the 'black boxes' that have been care-
fully arranged to support the claims, that is, it will lead the protagonists back into
the conditions under which the boxes were produced and then closed. In the case
of technical claims, these conditions are complex for the technician 'like a clever
engineer who decides to build a dam on solid bedrock . . . will manage to link the
fate of the [claim] to that of harder and harder facts' (Latour, 1987, 59). Thus, the
dissenter 'is no longer faced with the author's opinion but with what thousands
and thousands of people have thought and asserted' (Latour, 1987, 59).
In the main this is why technical texts are only disputable by other technicians
for the more technical the text, the more resources are usually required to support
the claims. Plans, however, are only partly 'technical': they are also quite overtly
'political' (although often technicalities are employed to disguise the true extent
of this) and therefore more 'open' in that their authority can perhaps more easily
be challenged by determined dissenters. In fact, as is argued below, it is this
'hybrid' quality, the splicing of technical and political rationalities, that is at once
both a source of weakness and a source of strength to plans. Plans must work hard
to gain legitimacy, but once the modalities are finally assembled they can call
upon the support of not just facts (technicalities) but all the participants in the
plan-making process that have helped make the facts 'stick'. While purely
technical texts may be hard to resist, they may also be hard to legitimise (beyond
the circles of a chosen few technicians); politico-technical texts, on the other
hand, may combine irresistible forms of knowledge with political legitimacy
(making them acceptable in a number of different contexts).

3 Latour (1987) is concerned to show that science and other technical activities are the pursuit
of politics by 'other means'. These 'other means' are important because they allow technical actors
the resources to build powerful networks: the stronger the resources, the longer the networks, the
more powerful the actors become. The strength of the resources comes from the trials to which the
resources are subjected. Technical forms of knowledge are turned into facts as they are subjected
to critique and analysis: if they survive these 'trials and tribulations' then they allow the actors who
control the facts to become more powerful. This paper concurs with this approach and simply tries
to show that the same kind of analysis can be turned on 'facts' that are constructed and
consolidated in other domains such as conventional politics. Moreover, it is possible to analyse a
sector such as planning because it combines political and technical discourses in its own special
way. It too is politics by other means but a situation where the 'other means' are highly significant.

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Using this general framework

[1992; 1883; 1996] rhetorical ap
from being an unstable, open t
it develops an 'inner logic', one
demands. It is possible, therefo
(Moore-Milroy, 1989). Yet the pl
resist the arguments of those
modalities must be rendered
them negative. In what follow
narrative might be so fortified and the extent to which it can succeed in
persuading a possibly recalcitrant readership of its merits. But more than this, it
is hoped to illustrate how the plan emerges from the constellation of actors
which surround the review process.

Modalities of planning: the case of the Buckinghamshire

Structure Plan review
A plan is essentially aimed at the coordination of diverse actors distrib
time and space. In order to achieve this aim the plan must propose
conceptions of the time and territory it seeks to cover; that is, it must
what kinds of places and what kinds of relationships the plan makers
mind, as well as who is to be involved and on what terms (Healey, 1995
These specifications must, however, be drawn up according to certa
criteria and must follow policies laid down by central government - nota
the United Kingdom (UK), as laid out in planning policy guidance n
(PPGs). The structure plan, for instance, should include policies on
housing, green belts and conservation, the rural economy, major develop
transport, mineral working, waste disposal and tourism (Department o
Environment, 1991) and must set these policies within an overarching st
for the county. Policies enshrined in the county structure plan then g
shape district plan policies and, ultimately, local development-control de
In the UK, and for the structure plan which is the subject of this case
three main stages of plan preparation are usually identifed: consultation,
and post inquiry (Adams, 1994). In the first, data is collected and assessed
distilled into the consultation draft of the plan which is then subjecte
consultation process. This leads to the publication of the plan in draft f
the second stage, a revised version of the plan is placed on deposit while
third stage, the plan is subjected to an Examination in Public (EIP) w
panel (made up of an independent chairperson and central govern
personnel) listens to the representations of a variety of respondents. Th
produces a report with recommendations for amendment. The county co
free to include these recommendations or ignore them as it sees fit. A
version of the Buckinghamshire Structure Plan (BSP) is then formally a
These three stages of plan preparation involve a range of actors w
invited to make representations. The form the representations can take,
arenas in which they are asked to make their representations, vary accor

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the review phase. For instance, in the first stage, planning officers, politic
members and other (invited) bodies are involved in drawing up the initial dr
of the planning document. This is then released for public consultation wh
'external' actors can submit their views in a written form to the planning
authority. In contrast to Adams, this paper identifies this latter phase as t
second stage in the review process, as a new arena, one which is quite open
comes into existence and permits new actors and representations to become
involved (see Table 1). After these representations have been considered the
plan then enters the third stage, the Examination in Public (EIP), where vario
actors - developers, residents, interest groups and so on - meet to discuss k
issues under the guidance of an appointed Inspector. Here representations a
made in both verbal and written forms. These are then collated and summarised
by the Inspector who makes recommendations based on government policy and
the arguments presented during the EIP. This stage can be identified as the
third arena, for again a new forum of participation is established, one which is
closed (participation is by invitation only) allowing verbal representations to be
made in the context of a debate between the main protagonists. The fourth phase
is, in essence, a return to the first: a closed group of planning professionals and
politicians determine the contents of the final version of the plan. These plan-
making stages are followed in the subsequent sections of this paper.
The case study area considered here is Buckinghamshire in south-east
England (see Fig. 1). This is a county which, because of its location in the north-
western part of the south-east region, has been under enormous growth pressure
for the last 20 years or so (Healey et al., 1982; Murdoch and Marsden, 1994). In
the north is the new city of Milton Keynes, a strategic growth centre, and in the
middle is the market town of Aylesbury. These have been two of the fastest
growing settlements in the UK over the past two decades. Traditionally strategic

Table 1 Outline of the Buckinghamshire Structure Plan review process

Stages Actions undertaken

Stage 1 Planning officers collate and synthesis

County Structure Plan and Local Plans Pan
draws up the Baseline Strategy.
Stage 2 Consultation draft of the plan is p
representations are made (in written form) on the plan; representations are
summarised by the county council and incorporated into the deposit draft of the plan.
Stage 3 The county council invites a selection of interested parties (developers, interest
groups, residents and so on) to participate in the Examination in Public. The inquiry
is chaired by a central government representative (an Inspector) who ensures that the
main plan policies are fully considered in a round table discussion. The Inspector then
synthesises the arguments and makes recommendations in a final EIP report.
Stage 4 The county council considers the EIP report and then amends the structure plan in
line with the Inspector's report, although the council is free to reach its own
conclusions on the EIP report. A final structure plan document is then produced and,
providing there is no objection from central government, it is formally adopted.

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Fig. 1 The County of Buckinghamshire

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planning in this pressurised area has acted to steer development into these tw
northern centres and the original version of the BSP, adopted initially in 1979
proposed a strategy which would 'restrain development in south Buckingham
shire' in order 'to protect the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural
Beauty (AONB) within south Buckinghamshire from new development that ha
no need to be located in the area' (Buckinghamshire County Council, 1986, par
16). The review process for the new BSP, which began in 1990, was the first
opportunity for any re-appraisal for this long-standing policy.


The story begins with a group of planning officers who initiate

process by putting together a series of papers on the contempor
housing, employment and transport in Buckinghamshire. In laying the
groundwork for the plan review they also summarised and synthesised
national policies and PPGs and highlighted their likely impact on the BSP.
The most significant of the national and regional policies concerned the Green
Belt and the provision of housing. On the first of these, Green Belts, the BSP is
charged with upholding Green Belt policies in order to contain urban sprawl and
protect the countryside. On the second, housing, the county council is obliged to
provide sufficient housing to meet regional housing requirements. Regional
housing requirements, in turn, are derived from central government forecasts.
These forecasts are essentially trend-based projections of population change in
England and Wales, estimated in terms of expected households. The national
projections are translated into regional and sub-regional demands for new
houses and these have then to be included in each county's structure plan. Each
county must show how it will meet its regional apportionment of housing during
the structure plan period through a viable distribution of dwellings among the
constituent district authorities. Thus the structure plan determines the district
councils' housing obligations for a 20-year period. It is no surprise then that the
scale and distribution of housing was to be the most contentious issue in the BSP
review process for it was calculated that the county would need to supply 62 600
additional dwellings during the period 199 1-200 1.4 The assessment of the plan
made here concentrates on the interlinking of the Green Belt and housing issues,
notably as the two policies came together in arguments around levels of growth
and the distribution of housing.5
Once the background data had been collated, the preliminary shape of the

4 Of this total figure around 35 000 would be built up to 2001, on sites which could already be
identified in local plans plus conversions, changes of use and so on, leaving 27 600 to be built in
the 2001 to 2011 period.
5 Around 50 000 hectares of Buckinghamshire (27 per cent of its total area) is included in Green
Belt designation, all of it located in Wycombe, Chiltern and South Buckinghamshire (the Green
Belt line follows the boundary line between Aylesbury Vale and Wycombe and Chiltern (see Fig.
1). The original Buckinghamshire Green Belt was designated in the Greater London Plan of 1944
and was then reaffirmed in the County Development Plan of 1954. The policy has been continually
reinforced since that time.

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plan's policies was considered

Panel (SPLPP). The panel comp
elected member input to the
information into a 'Baseline S
which would be included in the new BSP. It is important to note that the
strategy, while only a provisional outline of plan policies, also stood as a
position statement on the part of the political members. According to a planning
officer involved in this process, the members were concerned to ensure a
continuation of previous plan policies, especially protection of the Green Belt
and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). As this
planning officer said during his interview: 'they've always made clear right from
the word go that they wanted the Green Belt protected and they wanted the
AONB protected. You've got those two fixed starting points which they were
firmly attached to'.
Virtually from the very beginning of the review process, then, technical and
political considerations became almost seamlessly entwined and the whole
complexion and direction of the plan was enshrined in two objectives: firstly, the
requirement to meet regional housing targets and, secondly, the perceived need
to protect Green Belt and AONB in the south of the county. These two
objectives came to be closely aligned and determined the distribution of
development throughout the county. They also show that, right from the start, a
set of positive modalities lay at the heart of the review process (this accords with
Hull and Vigar's [1998] finding that often strategic decisions are made prior to
the formal review process). We can therefore go on to assess the extent to which
these key modalities were rendered 'positive' or 'negative' as the review
Having arrived at the starting point for the plan, the county council then
circulated the Baseline Strategy to the district authorities (Milton Keynes,
Aylesbury Vale, South Buckinghamshire, Chiltern and Wycombe) and a series
of meetings between these agencies ensued so that all could agree the plan's main
approach. With the enhanced importance of the development plan in the new
post- 1991 Planning and Compensation Act, plan-led regime, the districts
recognised that they should be involved quite closely in the review process.
Moreover, it was also imperative that they agreed the distribution of housing to
be contained in the plan as this would have serious implications for the
formulation of their own district plans. After a series of initial negotiations the
county and districts agreed the following distribution of new houses during the
plan period: Milton Keynes would take 37 200, Aylesbury Vale 14 300,
Wycombe 6700, Chiltern 1900 and South Buckinghamshire 2500.

6 At the time of our study Buckinghamshire County Council was dominated by Conservative
Party members. This group had dominated the Council since its establishment and had remained
in power for many years. By all accounts the Conservative group acted in concert on all major
planning issues and had established a tight relationship with senior planning officers. Together
they were able to reach a consensus on most issues, one which permitted a smooth continuity with
previous plan policies.

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Given the significance of the BSP for the various district authorities, it was in
many respects surprising that the county and district planners managed, quit
quickly, to achieve a large amount of consensus around the plan's key modalitie
However, beneath the surface certain tensions were evident. In Milton Keynes
was widely believed that its housing allocation derived more from the city's
strategic role within the region as a whole rather than from the BSP. Amon
Milton Keynes's planners there was a certain amount of scepticism that the new
city played any significant role in Buckinghamshire at all. As one planning officer
put it during interview:

The idea that Milton Keynes fulfils a role for the rest of Buckinghamshire is
slightly misplaced. Certainly previous versions of the Structure Plan have
suggested that's the case but in practice it hasn't actually worked out tha
way. The primary function of Milton Keynes is to provide a regional growth
point for the south east as a whole and the majority of the people who have
moved to Milton Keynes have come essentially from Greater London. Very
few have actually moved to Milton Keynes from the rest of Buckingham-
shire. Hardly any from the three southern districts.
So, while the Borough Council was quite happy with the city's overall housin
allocation for the plan period, it was sceptical about the role ascribed to Milto
Keynes within the Baseline Strategy. That is, the Borough Council could not
subscribe to the view that the existence of Milton Keynes would help to take th
pressure off the southern districts. Nevertheless, their scepticism did not extend
to making any real attempt to undermine the key tenets of the plan.
There also seemed to be some tension between the southern districts and
those in the north over the distribution of housing. While the Baseline Strate
was welcomed by the southern districts of Chiltern and South Buckinghamshi
Aylesbury Vale District Council in the north had reservations about the
preservationist attitudes prevailing in the south of the county. The latter
authority was attempting to provide for substantial amounts of new develop-
ment, yet it perceived the southern authorities to be providing very little housing
at all. As a planner in Aylesbury Vale commented:
I think South Bucks or Chiltern are planning to build 18 houses a year. I
mean, that's not planning in my mind. And there's Milton Keynes and
ourselves and we're talking about thousands, tens of thousands and, you
know, somebody's talking about 18 a year!
Once again, however, this scepticism was muted, for Aylesbury Vale professed
themselves quite willing to play the strategic growth role allocated to them in the
strategy and, therefore, allowed the central modalities to go forward
The positive modalities slowly being assembled in the plan were also bolstered
at this time by government policy on development plans, especially a new
version of PPG 12 published in early 1992, which emphasised the need to ensure
that development and growth are 'sustainable' (Department of the Environment,
1992a). Thus the policy of restraint in the south, and concentration on

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Aylesbury and Milton Keynes

'sustainable development'. And
followed. The housing distribution figures allocated the vast bulk of new
housing to Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and High Wycombe. On employment
policy, the plan stated that most new economic development would take place in
the north 'with a greater emphasis on restraint in the constrained south'
(Buckinghamshire County Council, 1994, 41). Milton Keynes and Aylesbury
were identified as the main employment growth centres. In the rural areas
outside the Green Belt, 'small scale employment generating developments
appropriate to ... local needs . . . will normally be acceptable' (Buckingham-
shire County Council, 1994, 42). Following on from this, it was stated that 'the
impact of new development on the Buckinghamshire countryside will be
reduced as much as possible' (Buckinghamshire County Council, 1994, 77) and
an increased priority was to be attached to redeveloping urban land. Thus the
whole thrust of the plan was constructed in accordance with sustainable
development, that is, urban concentration and rural protectionism.


Once the consultation draft, with its modalities of rural restraint

concentration, was produced (Buckinghamshire County Council, 1993) the
county council tried to open out the debate around the plan to the population at
large and this takes us into a second, more open arena, ostensibly accessible to
any actors inclined to become involved in the review process. In general the
'public' responses to the plan's modalities were supportive. On the geographic
distribution of development, for instance, amenity societies, parish councils and
local residents typically emphasised protection, for example 'we consider it
essential to protect the Green Belt and Chilterns AONB' (Chepping Wycombe
Parish Council) and 'we support the need to protect the Metropolitan Green
Belt and Chilterns AONB' (Princes Risborough Parish Council). The inter-
views, conducted during this period with a cross-section of the most active
participants in the review, indicate that these actors were overwhelmingly
concerned with preserving the physical environment, particularly the Green Belt
and the rural areas of the north. Thus they were supportive of the policy of
restraint in the south and channelling of development into Aylesbury and Milton
Keynes. The activities of these groups, therefore, helped to further consolidate
the modalities of restraint and protection.
Resistance to the modalities of Green Belt and rural protection might have
been expected from those urban areas likely to be most heavily affected by
housing and other forms of development. Milton Keynes, however, had been
initially designed to accommodate large-scale new development so there was
little opposition to growth in that location (although some concern was
expressed about urban encroachment on green areas surrounding the new
city). There was also very little response to the plan from Aylesbury, a smaller
town, which was set to take a considerable share of new development. It is hard
to find any clear reason for this, although it was suggested by various
respondents that it might be due to the fact that the town is not parished so

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there is no focal point for any anti-development sentiments. Moreover, the levels
and types of development already experienced over the last three decades in t
town may have resulted in a fatalism towards future development trends. It
mentioned by one planning officer that a fatalistic attitude is linked to th
entrenchment of the strategic policy in the county. In his view the policy h
become 'fixed in people's minds; this is how it's been done and always will
done'. This urban 'apathy' therefore allowed the modalities of urban
development and rural protectionism to become further entrenched in the plan.
Certain actors, however, did try to counter the protectionism so central to the
plan's policies. The main objections came, unsurprisingly, from the house
builders. Their opposition derived from a desire to open up more development
potential in the south of the county, notably by moving some of the allocations
given to Milton Keynes down to Wycombe (demand for new houses was
recognisably slack in Milton Keynes at the time of the review). For instance, in a
written representation to the county council one said: 'while accepting that a
positive policy of placing emphasis on growth is required to alleviate perceived
pressure in the south, the level of restraint is unacceptable and unrealistic'.
Another, slightly more forcefully, said much the same: '. . . restriction on
development south of the Chiltern ridge is harmful . . . and will not reflect the
needs of the individual'. We should stress, however, that the house builders were
simply concerned with opening up opportunities for development in the
constrained south of the county; they were not at all preoccupied with over
development in the urban areas of the north, particularly Aylesbury (as many
house builders believed Aylesbury could accommodate higher levels of
development than the BSP was then proposing).
At the consultation stage, however, the house builders were unsuccessful in
effecting any change in the plan's policies. In countering their objections, the
county council referred to a consensus between the county and district planning
authorities and pointed out that three of the districts (Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern
and Wycombe) were in agreement with their allocations, while South
Buckinghamshire felt their allocation could not be accommodated without
breaching Green Belt and AONB. Thus, the only change to the housing policy
that was made at this time was a decrease in the overall number of dwellings
(down from 62 600 to 61 700), due to a lower than expected number of
completions in Milton Keynes and new information on household formation
after 2001.
By the time the next version of the plan - the deposit draft - was published in
April 1994 the principles of sustainable development were very much in the
foreground, with the chosen strategy being one of 'concentration and
integration, rather than dispersal, with most new development located beyond
the Green Belt and the Chiltern Hills in North and Mid Buckinghamshire'
(Buckinghamshire County Council, 1994, 17). The plan claimed to distribute
new dwellings7 using criteria such as

7 Of the 61 700 new dwellings it was now possible to specify where 47 000 of these would be
provided. This left 14 700 to be accommodated.

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. . . close correlation between

facilities, such as shops and s
travel . . . the protection of e
Belts, Chilterns AONB, Herita
and high grade farmland. (Bu
The desire to protect the Gree
up in the discourse of sustaina
broad strategy of the plan we
'correlation' and 'integration'
proposed in the plan would be
Aylesbury and Wycombe. Thu
policy of southern preservatio
positive modalities were ther
political justifications; they we
At this stage in the review p
entrenched and it seemed that
general aims of the plan, even
simply undo the assumptions
strategy. The policies in the pl
discourse, yet some elements se
their bases often hard to chall
the broad strategy that 'the po
critique' (Report of Panel, 199
housing targets and distributions were not so immune, however. PPG 3
(Housing) made clear that 'Structure Plans will need to explain how the housing
figures have been derived and the assumptions underlying them' (Department of
the Environment, 1992b, para. 11). Thus the plan could be challenged by actors
with sufficient resources to engage in the technical arguments necessary to undo
the housing 'black boxes' coded into the policies. The actors with the motivation
and the expertise to do this were, of course, the house builders and the next
section outlines how they set about this task and with what success.



The EIP can be considered a new arena of representation and arg

one not simply comprised of written representations but one w
number of developers, conservationists, residents, planners, and ot
parties to debate the key issues in a round table discussion. This fo
participant the chance to rehearse their particular views on the p
arguments presented here it is possible to get an insight into the
goals of the key participants and the discursive strategies they emplo
undermine or reinforce the plan's modalities. As mentioned above
concentrates on the developers who used this arena as a means of atta
of the assumptions underlying the protectionist policies and
distribution within the plan. In order to try to change the 'flow'

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narrative, that is, render the modalities negative, the house builders had, firstly,
to undermine the county council's housing projections so that they could argu
for an increase in the overall numbers; secondly, if they wished to alter the
allocation so as to shift a substantial number down into the south of the count
where housing demand was more buoyant, they had to ease the restrictions in
the south. In order to do this they needed to point to inconsistencies,
uncertainties and unwarranted assumptions in the arguments that underpinned
the Green Belt designations. In other words, they were required to open up
many of the 'black boxes' that had been closed as the plan's central narrative was
put in place.
The first 'black box' that the house builders attempted to open was the Green
Belt. They argued that Green Belt policy does not necessarily contribute to
sustainable development and they suggested that Green Belt control might need
to be re-examined in the light to future development needs. Some were critical
of the Green Belt boundaries around the settlements in the south. One especially
outspoken local house builder claimed 'it doesn't fulfil any purpose and there is
never any explanation why towns shouldn't merge, etc. Housing statistics mean
the Green Belt should be rolled back and the boundaries should be reviewed.'
Most, however, used more measured arguments. For instance, the House
Builders' Federation (HBF), which acts as representative for many of the largest
house-building firms at public inquiries, argued that the county council had
simply taken the Green Belt at face value thereby resulting

in a situation whereby the development needs of the south of the county will
not be met where they actually arise. People are expected to move or travel
elsewhere to find new homes or jobs . . . The Federation therefore considers
that the County Council's housing strategy is effectively a strategy of
restraint, rather than any real attempt to address the County's future
development needs in a more sustainable way. In these circumstances, the
proposed strategy is self-defeating. (House Builders' Federation, 1994)
The next 'box' to be opened was levels of growth. In particular, the HBF took
issue with the county council's policy of accepting existing commitments up to
2006 and then only providing for 'natural increase' after that date. This
approach, it was argued, took no account of regional growth, the weakness of the
west to east shift of development pressure (the so-called Thames Gateway),8 in-
migration pressures, and the potential for job growth. The HBF provided a set
of comparative figures and projections which gave alternative scenarios to those

8 The Thames Gateway refers to a policy initiative introduced by John Major's Conservative
government in the early 1990s which attempted to steer development into the eastern part of the
south-east region, notably East London, Essex and Kent. A special planning framework for the
area was established in 1995 in order to identify the East Thames Corridor as a major potential
focus for growth and development. Planners in the western counties of the region then began to
point to this initiative as possibly leading to a diminution of growth in their areas. The developers,
however, treated the policy with some scepticism as they could see market pressure to be still
strong in the west and weak in the east.

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used by the county council: p

between possible employment
HBF plumped for a figure of
that 'this is both realistic and
reduce growth'. In terms of d
Belt boundaries (the most it h
plans process) and merely sou
particularly Wycombe.
Other developers, who arrive
(ranging from 64 000 to 74 000)
the same arguments - the reg
excessive and unrealistic relia
migration would continue, t
(linked to the issue of sustain
vacancy rates were too mode
degrees of concentration an
developers arguing that the
restrictive. It was claimed th
potential to take a higher hou
beyond the Green Belt and A
The house builders employed
the assumptions that lay behi
strengthen certain modaliti
undermining others (the need t
undermine many of the cou
arguments while also seeking
was determined by 'political' c
house builders can be gleaned fr
the housing figures, by an HB
pressure that is leading them
that leads to this.' The politics
for the most part it remained
Other participants at the EIP
and they attempted to ques
instance, local village and en
implications which stemmed
rural settlements. However, t
arguments to effectively scru
(Murdoch and Abram, 1998). T
technical discourse which dom
characterised their arguments
the EIP panel where the housi
report argued that the county
rates for 1991 declining to 3
nearer 4 per cent than 3 per c
a higher completion rate could

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of houses to be provided during the plan period was raised to 66 500.9 The ho
builders, through their deployment of technical arguments, had thus won
minor victory.
The final phase of the review process ended where it had begun: in the coun
council offices with a small group of professionals and politicians making
judgements on the proper levels of development and their spatial allocation
Effectively the SPLPP Committee determined the final shape of the plan alo
with senior planning officers, although any modifications after the EIP were put
out to public consultation.10 In response to the panel report (Buckinghamshi
County Council, 1995) the county council expressed surprise that the east-we
shift had been treated so cautiously. The county council could see no groun
for assuming that there was any pressure for increased housing in Buckingha
shire as a result of lower than anticipated rates of development in the Tham
Gateway. Likewise the county council could see no reason to accept that level
in-migration during the second half of the plan period would be any greater than
they had allowed. Thus the council would not accept any increase on the
grounds. It would, however, accept that its vacancy rate was too low and raised it
to 3.5 per cent for the plan period. The county council suggested, therefore
increase in the overall provision to 64 000 dwellings.11

As has been illustrated here, a development plan sits at the centre of a c
web of relationships. It has therefore been possible to show how various
representations, legal texts, government statements, statistics and policie
bear upon the plan. Yet the plan is not the simple, neutral reflection of thes
all need to be woven into a coherent narrative in which a series of modalities
must be convincingly deployed. The plan thus has its own story, its own
momentum. In the case of the BSP, a narrative was established almost from the
beginning of the whole review process. In effect, this narrative had two main,

9 This also entailed a change in the housing figures for each of the urban centres. It was decided
to allocate a further 800 houses to Milton Keynes, a further 2000 to Aylesbury Vale (with
Aylesbury town taking the bulk of this), 1000 to Wy combe, and 500 each to Chilterns and South
10 Modifications adopted after the EIP report did include a notable shift of housing allocations
from Milton Keynes to Wy combe (a long-standing aim of the house builders). A change of
political leadership in Wycombe - from Conservative to Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition - led
to the borough council askine for an extra 300 houses in the town.
1 1 In its response to the EIP recommendations on housing, the county council argued that the
figure for Milton Keynes (increase of 800) remained the same, but the increase for Aylesbury was
halved (to 1000). On High Wycombe the county council argued that any increase in its housing
allocation would threaten the Green Belt and the Chilterns AONB. Thus it rejected any increase
in the town's allocation. Likewise in Chiltern and South Buckinghamshire the county council
argued that, given the reluctance by the panel (following the plan's lead) to examine Green Belt
boundaries, no increase in these districts could be justified. In sum, the bulk of the increase was set
to fall on Aylesbury (Buckinghamshire County Council, 1995).

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interlinked modalities which rel

said, 'you probably have two
north'. The story in the south w
and AONB. Following on from
of the north. Thus these two aspects of the policy were brought into
interdependence: the modality of southern preservation came to depend upon
the development of the northern towns.
By focusing on the modalities of planning in the examination of this case
study it has been possible to illustrate how a plan which at one point was
'open', that is, acting as an 'arena of negotiation', came to be progressively
'closed' - that is, it became a 'directive statement' (Healey, 1993). However,
while the plan was rendered more factual by this closing down of the
arguments, very few of the participants in the review were fully persuaded by
the plan's precepts. On the one hand, there was a general feeling that the
arguments around the technicalities had been adequately aired. For instance,
the housing figures were scrutinised and debated more than any other issue at
the EIP. The technical nature of these figures rendered the arguments
transparent even if all the 'black boxes' which underpinned the calculations
were difficult to prise open. On the other hand, the political assumptions and
calculations that had gone into the plan were not so easy to debate, even though
almost all the participants were aware that the plan was partly composed of
these. In many respects, the politics lurked in the background while the
technicalities took the foreground. Thus the participants were never able to
unpick the political arguments and as a consequence many retained a sceptical
attitude to the plan's central provisions. Nevertheless, despite this scepticism,
simply by participating in the review process, these actors helped to legitimise
the plan.12
The case study followed the structure plan along the length of the review
process starting at a point when it was relatively unstable and still open to
dispute. It traced its emergence as a coherent and closed, factual object in order
to show that plans are both 'directive statements' and 'arenas of negotiation',
with the balance between these roles changing, depending on the context. The
modalities which comprise the plan have to be constructed in ways which ensure
that later audiences (or readers) will be persuaded of the plan's legitimacy. This
is the main purpose of the review for it allows all the participants, in varying
degrees, to claim a stake in the process (if not the final product). The outcome of
the review is then a 'fact' that, if it comes to be questioned or challenged, can call
up in its own support not just all the technical calculations that have gone into its
making but also the many actors that have debated its modalities. However, in

12 It would be wrong to conclude from this analysis, however, that the politics simply clouded
an otherwise rational and technical process. Politics forces the technicalities to be opened up for
scrutiny; it is only because the plan is widely regarded as a politico-technical hybrid that an open
debate on all its provisions is thought necessary (most purely technical texts avoid such public
scrutiny). Therefore, while the debate was in many respects technical, it was also political - it is
just that the politics was focused on the technicalities.

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order to be rendered 'factual' the review must be finely balanced for there is a
inherent tension between the legal requirement to open the 'boxes' for scrutin
and the need at some point to close them down again. The case study has show
that certain central modalities resisted any real assault on their status (notabl
the levels of housing growth and their distribution) perhaps because they wer
closed down rather early in the process and no actors succeeded in truly prisin
them open. Thus, while a coherent document was produced by the review, a
large amount of scepticism remained among many participants. Scepticism is n
doubt an enduring feature of the plan-making process but it serves as a warnin
that planners must always be looking for ways to boost the persuasive powers o
their development plans.
In conclusion, a more normative consideration is introduced, one which
qualifies, to a limited extent, the preceding argument. As both the Habermasian
and Foucauldian scholars have noted, the planning process is a kind of 'power
game' in which priorities are asserted, hierarchies are constructed, and
discourses are imposed. The case study presented here can clearly be analysed
in similar terms for there was undoubtedly a hierarchy of representation in the
BSP review which led to the imposition of certain powerful discourses. And it
became quite clear, as the review unfolded, that the modalities of the plan and
the structure of participation, to some extent, reflected one another. Thus, it was
apparent that the main protagonists - developers and perservationists - were
mirrored in the main modalities, namely the levels of growth and the urban
distribution of housing. While the above analysis has been keen to stress that the
modalities and the protagonists were in a complex interrelationship - shaping
one another - it is important to also note that other modalities and other
protagonists were noticeable by their absence (for example, as mentioned, the
people of Aylesbury themselves). The interaction between the plan and its social
context can, therefore, be a very partial one. And this points to another, perhaps
even more powerful effect of the interrelationship between plan and social
context: the plan, its provisions and the actors surrounding its construction can
engineer a social environment which affects many people in a rather exclusive
fashion. It is easy to understand therefore how they might simply neglect the
views of those who are likely to be most affected by the plan's provisions but who
are absent from both the review and the modalities. This partiality highlights
the need to ensure that the political and technical aspects of plan making extend
beyond the stable coalitions that so often surround the plans, to those who are
unwilling to become involved, in part, perhaps, because they can find no
reflection of their interests and concerns in the key modalities.13

13 We recognise that this conclusion is by no means novel - and the same insights can be
derived from the work of Hillier (1996) and Hillier and Van Looji (1997) among others - but it is
one that is invariably worth reaching.

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The research reported in this paper was financed by the

Economic and Social Research Council under its Local
Governance Programme (grant number L31 1253056) and we
are grateful to the Council for its support, and also to Gerry
Stoker, the Programme's Director. Earlier versions of this
paper, which has been in gestation for some considerable
time, were presented at the Department of Town and
Country Planning in Newcastle and at the Institute of
British Geographers' Annual Meeting in Strathclyde. We are
grateful to the participants at each event for their helpful
comments. We would also like to thank our colleagues Neil
Harris and Mark Tewdr- Jones for some valuable discussion
of the ideas contained in this paper.

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