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The Complexity of Planning Reform: A Search for the Spirit and Purpose of Planning

Author(s): Mark Tewdwr-Jones

Source: The Town Planning Review, Vol. 79, No. 6 (2008), pp. 673-688
Published by: Liverpool University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27715072
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TPR, 79 (6) 2008

Mark Tewdwr-Jones

The complexity of planning reform: a search
for the spirit and purpose of planning

Planning in the UK has changed beyond all recognition over the last 20 years and has broadened out
from its regulatory core. It is now charged with coordinating the spatial aspects of a range of policy
agendas at the local and regional levels and providing a mediation forum for various interests that is
responsive to changing conditions. The reformed planning system reflects both continuities with and
radical departures from the past. Planning can no longer be understood as a single entity, but as turbulent,
fluid and adaptable processes. This paper charts the evolution of planning reform, and suggests that what
we have today are diverse activities of intervention, coordination and delivery that vary geographically
and politically. Planning has been strengthened, but within an increasingly complex and demanding
environment that only serve to question its purpose and activity

Over the last two decades at least, local government functions have diversified from
direct service provision to a much broader range of activities involving regulation,
leadership and enabling. Governments globally have promoted an agenda of state
infrastructure revitalisation, decentralisation and local responsiveness, cooperation
and partnership with civil society, together with social responsibility. The planning
reforms introduced since 2001 are set within this wider and fluid context. These
planning activities are not deterministic, but rather embrace flexibility and differ
ence; these qualities are strengths of planning, but can also serve as an ongoing uncer
tainty for planning's purpose. Change within planning is not new; planning in the
UK has endured in various guises since its modern statutory inception in the Town
and Country Planning Act 1947. Planning possessed an elevated status as a modern
forward-thinking and visionary discipline and practice in an era of the comprehen
sive redevelopment of cities during the period 1945-1970 (Reade, 1987), reflecting its
ideological status as part of modernity and social reform.
Over the years, planning has accommodated the agendas of divergent political
administrations as well as major shifts in the national and international economy
(Hall, 2002). By the 1980s, successive governments had politically reduced the profes
sional purpose and activity of planning to little more than an administrative exercise
dominated by neo-liberal agendas (Thornley, 1991), this in turn reflecting a new politics
and market primacy over planning. The Utopian ideals in the post-war period associ
ated with the professional experts' desire to create more beautiful places (Fishman,
1977) appeared increasingly archaic in the Thatcher era, as the purpose and status of

Mark Tewdwr-Jones is Professor of Spatial Planning and Governance* at the Bartlett School of Planning, University
College London, Wales House, 22 Gordon Street, London WCiH oQBjcmail: m.tewdwr-jones^ucl.ac.uk.

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674 Mark Tewdwr-Jones

planning began to be undermined within the broader political campaign to

centralise or remove local government powers and roll back the state and r
the market. Planning has yielded important successes in policy terms (Bruton
but, crucially, has become a system beset by trade-offs - between participa
resources, between participation and speed, and between resources and speed
1987). The trade-offs, to some extent, reflect differing attitudes to, perceptio
expectations from planning, among politicians, developers and the public, gr
have often criticised planning for a variety of reasons. For some of these, pl
too slow, over-regulatory and thwarts necessary development. For others, it
on despoiling what is left of the countryside. Such criticisms have dogged p
since 1947 and reflect the compromise nature of planning - that there is no
or ideal system to suit twenty-first century challenges.
The variety of elements and the trade-offs that now characterise planning h
easily accommodated within a system that is highly dependent upon secondar
tion and policy guidance to give it both objectives and process. The Thatcher
1979-1990 did not entail a great deal of legislative change in order to shift t
and purpose of planning, while the culture of planning was changed under th
governments of 1990-1997 through the emphasis on competition and target
local government. After 1997, the New Labour Government made concerted
to modernise the planning system as part of a political programme intended
various public institutions and policy areas. This renaissance has not returned
to its socialist origins, but rather - like the Labour Party's makeover itself -
to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and relevance and, to some degree
of the planning process to a range of stakeholders that extend beyond simp
of the public and the private (Healey, 2007). More significantly, the post-199
awaken the strategic role for planning, beyond its narrow regulatory focus.
The Labour Government reforms have culminated in a radical planning o
since 2004 and the emergence of spatial planning, intended to encourage a
perspective of planning into notions of place, space, community, governanc
strategic integration, coupled with the introduction of regional and sub-re
spatial tiers of policy-making, and a strengthening of local planning and c
strategy-making (Tewdwr-Jones et al., 2009, forthcoming). More recently, t
ment has stressed the need for planning to be concerned with 'place-sha
cornerstone of local governance (Lyons, 2007), and is legislating to allow fo
agencies other than local authorities to prepare development plans and s
(DCLG, 2007). New forms of planning and new plans now exist at national,
local and community levels, allowing for different types of planning to co
marked contrast to older notions of central and local statutory planning. O
these various scales of planning are significant policy areas that require ad
including the impact of climate change, biodiversity and sustainability issue

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Commentary 675

impact of economic competitiveness and growth priorities, particularly in the context

of the recent economic downturn.
All these changes and reforms to planning necessitate some reflection as to the
form and trajectory of planning today, and a questioning of its spirit and purpose.
During a period of immense change and added complexity within planning, it is
worthwhile considering the bigger picture. The academic literature is rich in attempts
to provide this bigger picture of planning in the past, including the work of Bruton
(1974), Buchanan (1972), Brindley et al. (1989), Cherry (1974), Healey et al. (1988), and
Reade (1987). But such portraits have been lacking more recently, perhaps because
of a lack of consensus as to the purpose and direction of planning politically and
professionally and constant and ongoing waves of planning reform that make pausing
for assessment problematic. What is clear is the lack of a systematic evaluation over
the last 20 years and the need once again for a full-scale debate on the meaning and
purpose of planning, in order to make sense of the changes but also to keep in check
and to review our own changing identities and roles as planners.
The ongoing trade-offs in the position and purpose of planning further remove
the discipline from its historic root. Increasingly, the form planning takes today
appears increasingly divorced from the objectives of the Town Planning Movement
of a hundred years ago. Given political responses to changing social, economic and
environmental concerns over the decades, this is not surprising. However, parts of the
planning academy have failed to acknowledge the ways in which the principles and
tools of planning have been re-moulded. There is also an increasing separation of
proactive policy planning from regulatory planning, employing different mechanisms
and different objectives. Furthermore, there has been an increasing tendency to utilise
shadow, ad-hoc or temporary delivery mechanisms by a range of agencies and actors,
often in place or to the side of formal planning tools of elected government. There
has also been an increase in the use of policy and delivery mechanisms that transcend
administrative and sector boundaries, features that formerly characterised planning
territories. And all these evolving processes are aside from the continual employment
of economic growth and competition as the language of planning, simultaneous to
government policy documents stressing a broader sustainable development remit.
Planning has cast off many of the modernist trappings with which it often, ironi
cally enough, remains so intimately associated, thus raising the necessity for debate
here about how planning has been reshaped and for what objectives. The key questions
to consider are:

1. what does current and emerging planning amount to; and

2. what is planning's new spirit and purpose?

For those of us who have been within planning for some years, the scale of change in
planning during the maelstrom of reform can often seem bewildering. But, I contend,

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676 Mark Tewdwr-Jones

it is time for us to identify a common endeavour so as to enable the better com

tion of and support for positive planning. The focus of this paper then is on th
and purpose of planning today. It is a discussion that will hopefully generate f
debate that is often lacking in academic and professional circles. It is also int
to introduce the pace and nature of change within UK planning to an intern
audience. But before we begin to conceptualise the recent changes to plannin
first need to outline the pattern of planning reform, highlighting in partic
Government's evolving agendas for planning. The discussion reviews emergin
lation and policy that seek to transform planning once again in the next few
before moving on to a critical analysis of the changes set within a broader pers
of planning's historic and present purpose. Towards the end of the paper, the
agenda is conceptualised. The intention here is to dissect the anatomy of plan
and to provide a bigger picture that seeks to make sense of change. We comm
however, with an outline of change.

Twelve years of planning reform

Upon taking office in 1997, the Labour Government possessed no 'big age
the planning system. In fact, planning hardly featured on the Government's fi
programme (1997-2001). A 1998 statement by the Minister for Planning d
improving efficiencies but did not hint at any radical change (DETR, 19
anything, the period can be characterised as 'business as usual', since the emp
was placed on aspects of constitutional change and social policy improvem
core areas of the Labour Party's manifesto pledges. There was an indirect im
planning, caused by devolution of power to the Celtic countries and to Londo
commitment to enhance regional governance in England, but this was scalar in
with the emergence of new policy tools and levels of responsibility.
Two reports, however, set the ground for more significant changes later. Th
significant moment was the publication of a report by the McKinsey Institu
1998 that linked the capacity of local authorities to deliver planning for busin
economic growth (McKinsey Institute, 1998). The report appeared to find favo
some parts of Government, but did not result in any noticeable change in d
at that time. The second moment was the formation of the Urban Task Force,
1998, charged with recommending new approaches to tackle urban problems
report, Towards an Urban Renaissance, suggested a shift in policy towards the inne
towards good urban design, the funding of the public realm, and property d
ment involving partnership working (Urban Task Force, 1999). Both of these
opments, external to the planning process itself, set up a programme for ch
planning in the following years although, noticeably, both reports rejected a p
role for public sector planning. If there were to be a renaissance for planning

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Commentary 677

Labour, this would not be achieved necessarily through traditional planning to

alone or led by the public sector, reflecting both continuities with and changes to
pre-1997 agendas.
The second term of the Blair government (2001-2005) was characterised b
a different focus altogether, largely as a result of the lack of progress in chan
announced in the first term. Most noticeably, December 2001 saw the publicat
of the Planning Green Paper that discussed major reform to the tools of planning
marked contrast to the spirit and content of the ministerial statement of 1998. Ter
such as 'fundamental change' and 'radical overhaul' were used by Ministers to hera
the Green Paper (DTLR, 2001). Whether this suggests that the sentiments of t
McKinsey report had influenced ministerial thinking or that the Treasury had start
to take a stronger interest in planning issues and the need for deregulation is diffic
to ascertain; however, the discourse of planning reform had certainly commenced a
this stage and, arguably, would lead to even further policy changes in the decade th
followed in relation to retail development and regionalism.
The second term was also marked by a concentration in policy terms on urb
and neighbourhood regeneration, urban and regional growth and capacity and t
creation of, what may be termed, new governance delivery bodies at the local leve
to tackle policy delivery and implementation. The response seems a departure from
property-led regeneration policies of the 1980s and 1990s, although the involveme
of non-local government actors in the new responses nevertheless marked continu
mistrust on the part of Whitehall to hand over complete control to local autho
ties. Under the provisions of local government reform, Local Strategic Partnershi
(LSPs) were created as non-statutory bodies that brought together at a local level th
different parts of the public sector, as well as private, business, community and volu
tary sectors, to enable different initiatives and services to work together. Each releva
local authority was now required to prepare a Community Strategy through their
LSP Community Strategies, since superseded by Sustainable Community Strategies,
were to be overarching documents that brought together development plans and oth
plans and strategies, partnerships and initiatives to provide a forum through whic
mainstream service providers (local authorities, the police, health services, central
government agencies, and bodies outside the public sector) worked together to me
local needs and priorities.
For planning, aspects of this agenda were not particularly new. The themes
both the LSP and the Community Strategy appear reminiscent of some of the task
of planning - essentially corporate planning - under the Welfare State before 1979
The post-2000 differences, by contrast, meant that planning was not given the centr
task in strategising solutions to local problems, partly because of the decline of th
Welfare State. But it was also because of increased scepticism, particularly with
central government, as to whether planning as a discipline and a profession co

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678 Mark Tewdwr-Jones

actually deliver the sort of ambitious change needed. It is also indicative of a ch

environment within which planning operates with an enhanced role for pressur
lobbying groups and a range of government external influences all interested in
use and impact of planning. Planning's role in the twenty-first century require
necessity of working with a non-statutory decision-making body that might set
tives and priorities that in turn imposed requirements on the local authority's
opment plan. This is quite a contrast to the relative separation of the developm
plan and development control from other local government duties in the previo
The changes in planning began to have an impact on procedures, but were initi
ated through local government rather than through planning legislation. As a conse
quence, many in planning - practitioners, academics and commentators - failed to
identify the implications the local government reforms would have on planning at this
time (as Morphet [2007] states). The legislative change to planning itself, promised
within the 2001 Green Paper, was finally introduced in the Planning and Compulsory
Purchase Act 2004. This was not intended to reinstate a corporate role for planning,
but rather to make planning more efficient for development delivery and implementa
tion by reforming the tools of planning. Whether this type of reform was absolutely
necessary in the context of the emerging local government reforms is debatable. One
could argue with hindsight that a better approach would have been to concentrate on
improving the working relationship between the new local government requirements
and the pre-existing planning mechanisms that were already subject to improvements
and efficiencies. But Government remained resolutely committed to 'do something'
about planning in the face of criticisms from some business quarters about continued
over-regulation. Ironically enough, however, the Act did little to deregulate land use
planning at this time, and instead altered the planning policy tools available to local
authorities to manage medium- and long-term trends.
The planning legislation of 2004 reformed the planning policy and strategy making
function at national, regional, sub-regional, local and community levels: national
Planning Policy Guidance Notes would be replaced with Planning Policy Statements;
Regional Planning Guidance Notes with Regional Spatial Strategies; Sub-Regional
Strategies would be introduced for the first time; and Structure Plans, Local Plans
and Unitary Development Plans (the format of which had been in existence since
the last major development plan overhaul in the late 1960s) would be replaced with
Local Development Frameworks. At the sub-local level, Community Strategies would
be required to dovetail with the new planning system within the Local Development
Frameworks and focus on integration, project management, resources and delivery.
Finally, another objective of the planning reform would be to 'front-load' the planning
system by introducing more up-stream public participation and stakeholder consul
tation processes within planning policy-making, and thereby remove some of the

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Commentary 679

eleventh hour contention over development proposals that often delayed planning
application determination.
The third term of the Labour government (2005 onwards) and the change i
Prime Minister from Blair to Brown in 2007 can be characterised by an increa
emphasis upon delivery. Housing affbrdability, economic competitiveness, energy
supply, infrastructure needs and climate change, set within a declining economy,
became the priority needs and underpinned proposals for yet further reforms. Thes
included the provision of three new planning-related Bills (the Planning Act 2008,
the Climate Change Act and, at the time of writing, the Local Democracy, Econom
Development and Construction Bill) and a range of secondary legislative and pol
changes that will change the landscape and practices of planning further over the
next 10 years.
The Government launched its Planning White Paper in May 2007 with the inten
tion of streamlining the planning system (DCLG, 2007). The period 2004-200
was characterised by a growing debate within and outside Government about t
economic impacts of land use planning, with debate becoming increasingly led and
shaped by the Treasury rather than the Department for Communities and Loc
Government. The Treasury had commissioned two major reports from Kate Barker
concerning housing and planning (Barker, 2004), and land use planning and economic
(Barker, 2006). The tone was somewhat familiar, with an assertion that planning wa
an impediment to economic growth, frustrated land release for housing developmen
and was inflexible.
Many aspects of the Barker reports provided balanced and reasoned accounts of
the problems, but some commentators identified an entrenched monetarist - almo
anti-planning - viewpoint behind the focus. The Royal Town Planning Institute, in
particular, attempted with some degree of success to debunk a few myths surround
planning. What was noticeable, however, was the lack of acknowledgement to t
array of local government and planning reforms that had recently been put in
place after 2000 and 2004. Indeed, one could be forgiven for assuming that two ver
different perspectives of planning now co-existed within Government: one concerne
a broader role for planning, with a reliance on strategic and local planning too
spatial planning, and enhanced public involvement methods; the other concerned a
focus on land use planning, land values and land release, and enhanced development
The subsequent proposals for planning to some extent reflected the two different
perspectives for planning. Ruth Kelly, the then Communities Secretary, characterise
the proposals of the 2007 White Paper as delivering 'a planning system fit for the
twenty-first century'. In the year of the 60th Anniversary of the Attlee Governmen
creation of modern planning, the 2007 reforms introduced radical changes to t
spirit, purpose and process of planning. The White Paper was translated into t

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680 Mark Tewdwr-Jones

Planning Bill 2007, which was enacted a year later as the Planning Act in Novem
2008 and whose contents can be headlined as follows.

Small-scale developments, such as extensions, with no impact on neighbours, to

exempt from planning permission.
Industrial and commercial developments to be awarded enhanced freedoms fr
Standard planning application processes, including online submissions, and a fast
track planning appeals mechanism.
Requirement for developers to consult the public and other interested parties.
A new Infrastructure Planning Commission to make recommendations on major
planning projects.
Enhanced national strategic planning policy, setting out medium- to long-term
planning requirements over a 25-year time period.
Local authorities to become guardians of place shaping, concerned with commu
nity well-being, and integrating different actors and processes necessary to deliver
The 2007/08 reform proposals have generated criticism from environmentalists
and community representatives, concerned at the prospect of a 'free for all' on devel
opment issues. Business leaders have welcomed the proposals that are intended to
assist in economic growth and build on Kate Barker's recommendations on planning
and the economy. However, Barker was only one influence; other commissioned
reports have also impacted on the reforms, including Eddington's transport review
(Eddington, 2006), Stern's climate change report (Stern, 2006), and Lyons' report on
local government (Lyons, 2007). There are two key elements to this round of reform.
The first concerns the environmental and democratic impacts of the proposed Infra
structure Planning Commission that will take charge of major nationally significant
planning projects that previously have been the subject of long and expensive planning
inquiries. The second focuses on allowing small-scale neighbourhood development to
occur without the need for planning permission, and the impact this may have on
neighbours and property values.
The changes enacted in the Planning Act 2008 clearly bear a deregulation stamp
on the one hand, but also reflect the difficulty of delivering major infrastructure devel
opments within a planning system that has always been decentralised locally. And
here lies the paradox: Labour Party commitments in the first and second terms of
office were to decentralise authority to local and regional levels, but there has been a
belated recognition on the part of ministers that the principle of subsidiarity within
planning is not likely to deliver many of the major developments that are now required
nationally or the political commitments for housing and economic growth. So where,
in this context, can we place the discipline and profession of planning today? Can

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Commentary 681

planned be pinned down and defined? And how different is it from previous forms
of planning?

Full circle or an enhanced burden?

There can be little doubt that the purpose of planning has been broadened out
dramatically over the last 60 years. In the post-war planning system, the emphasis was
on rebuilding cities and the economy, decentralising population from overcrowded
and bomb damaged inner city areas, preventing urban sprawl, providing sufficient
quantity of housing, and controlling new development. Buchanan (1972) identified the
purpose of planning in 1947 as:

ensuring equality of opportunity, prosperity and standards;

getting urban areas into shape;
ensuring a sufficient and economic transport system for people and goods;
conserving natural resources; and
conserving the nation's heritage.

Bruton (1974) viewed planning as a rational, single-minded, conformist approach

to resolving urban problems, seeking public control of land use, decentralising activi
ties within a loose urban form. This form of planning had taken root in the 1940s with
increasing centralisation of decision-making and the wartime task had brought the
desire for more planning to a head. But it was the need to tackle economic and social
conditions within a strong regional and national planning framework that catalysed
formal planning, albeit with a noticeable caveat: namely, that planning would be set
within a democratic context, answerable at national level through ministers to Parlia
ment and through elected local councillors in local authorities. Bruton (1974) identified
this factor as a bulwark against totalitarianism, such that planning became a matter for
central government, but to be made operational and effective through the medium of
local government. Gaps in this system opened up in the 1960s and 1970s particularly
in relation to authoritarian prescriptions (which became questioned increasingly), and
community needs, leading to a variety of style of planning and responses locally. At
this point, centrally led planning should have become less important, if new forms of
regional planning had taken root but, even at this time, the idea of regional policy
making and authority was fiercely opposed.
By the 1970s, a one-style type of planning to fit all circumstances was inappropriate.
As Cherry (1974, 79) remarked, foretelling pluralist and communicative thoughts on
planning in the following years:

The fact was that there was not simply one way of doing things, not just one sense of
action for the future, but a variety. A pluralist society implied that there are alternative

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682 Mark Tewdwr-Jones

solutions to a particular problem and these depend on the different assumptions and
values held by the groups concerned, and the way that problem is perceived.

Planning had moved from a period of disjointed attempts of urban government in th

first part of the twentieth century, through a process of coordinated and committ
planning as a state activity by the 1950s and 1960s, to a locally determined process
shaped by national parameters after the 1970s. In the 1970s, planning was charact
ised as a comprehensive corporate government process, managed by objectives. Th
reforms to planning of the late 1960s sought to allow the development of large-scal
long-term spatial policies as well as ensuring that physical development planni
and implementation could be carried out. But the reforms to planning in the late
1960s and 1970s were allied to political contention over local government reorgani
tion against a backdrop of a failing state and economic decline. As political parties
disagreed fundamentally over the most appropriate boundaries of policy-making a
a sub-national level and the appropriateness of state planning, the revised plannin
system became, essentially, a compromised process (Cross and Bristow, 1983; Brut
and Nicholson, 1987).
The planning system took on an altogether different form and appearance during
the 1980s and most of the 1990s, and those debates have been well rehearsed a
discussed elsewhere (see Thornley, 1991). By the time of the return of the Labour
Party to government in 1997, however, planning returned as a valid activity, albeit o
transformed by the experiences of the previous three decades, and set within a mu
more plural state. There is no greater indication of this renaissance for planning tha
a check on the purposes of planning now set out by government, and which are a
marked contrast to the 1947 purposes of planning. According to all the various polic
statements of government, in 2008 planning had the following objectives:'

enabling the building of healthy, thriving, sustainable communities;

supporting economic development vital to create jobs and ensuring continui
national prosperity;
protecting the natural and historic environment, ensuring everyone has access t
green space;
enabling the delivery of essential infrastructure;
supporting individual citizens to improve their homes and protecting people fr
obtrusive development;
assisting in resolving differences in opinion towards the way land is used;
supporting the involvement of local communities in voicing opinions about the

1 Interestingly enough, this list o?* objectives had to be derived from various statements contained on the Commu
nity and Local Government website, since there is no definitive overview o? planning's purpose; in one single
document at the present time.

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Commentary 683

Table 1 Characteristics of UK planning, 1945 to present day

Modern planning New Right planning Post-1997

1945-79 1979-97 'modern' planning

Principles Economic and social Economic focus Economic focus

Land use base Land use base Spatial base
Boundaried Boundaried Temporal and spatial diversity
Progressive Progressive Diverse and plural
Rational Rational Participative/professional
Hierarchical and layered Targeted Pragmatic
Plan focus Project focus Layered/fluid and overlapping
Procedural base Procedural base Place focus
Planners lead Developers lead Outcome focus
Planners follow

Form Centrally led Centrally led Centrally shaped

Local democratic National democratic Local/national democratic
Formal corporate government Quango government Varied government/
Deterministic function Enabling function governance regimes
Integrative function

Content Long-term strategic thinking Ad hoc thinking Short-term vision forming

Public-led physical planning Property-led planning Market-led masterplanning
Development plans focus Development project focus Range of delivery mechanisms
Development control focus Deregulatory focus Development management focus

contributing to the prevention of terrorism by designing out crime; and

supporting the provision of public transport, and healthy and sustainable alter
natives to the use of the private car ( www.communities.gov.uk, accessed 4 July

These additional expectations to planning reflect the changed expectations of

government, but also the fact that planning sits across a complex governmental and
policy arrangement, with vertical and horizontal axes. As such, the centralised, more
authoritarian top-down approach to planning is no longer valid, even if there are
vested national interests and priorities at stake. There is also a spatial and geograph
ical dimension to planning which now actively encourages planning difference and
divergence. There also exists a commitment toward the idea of spatial planning
alongside land use planning, which may also be recognised as bearing some of the
hallmarks of the 1960s model of planning as a comprehensive, well-managed, corpo
rate governance process, managed by objectives and attempting to achieve integration
between various actors and strategies. Furthermore, there are proposals to implement
planning and other policy areas at the sub-national scale, perhaps through city-region

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684 Mark Tewdwr-Jones

and sub-regional models, an idea not that far away from the late 1960s attem
reorganise local government boundaries. These continuities and differences
setting out, and a summary of the differences and changes between the pos
world of planning, through the 1980s, to the process as it exists today are illu
in Table 1.
Much contention remains in academic and professional debate as to whether some
of the post-1997 characteristics are present or remain wishful thinking when compared
to changes actually occurring (or not) on the ground. However, the government does
possess clear expectations on planning today. Planning is increasingly complex, and
this suggests the need for a much more critical discussion about the distinctions and
tensions within planning as a governmental, public, private and participatory set of
processes. There needs to be a distinction between planning policy, planning regula
tion and spatial planning, on the one hand, and, on the other, the relationships, inter
locking and co-dependencies between European, national (UK-wide), national (four
countries), regional, sub/city-regional, and local levels of government and policy
making, each with its own planning level and discretionary judgement. A considerable
literature is already available on the varying forms and trajectories of UK planning,
where planning is:

a facilitator, regulator or barrier on a whole host of measures (Allmendinger,

a coordinating or choreographic tool for regional and local public bodies (Biancini
et al., 2006); and
an access point for wider stakeholders to get involved not only in planning but local
and regional governance and strategy-making (Healey, 2007).

Planning, in England at least, appears to be splitting up in many ways that suggests

both continuity with the past (development control management, for example) and
radical reform (spatial planning, that emphasises corporate governance, turning back
the clock towards a form of civic planning not seen since pre-1970s albeit within a
fundamentally changed state). The problems around these emerging forms of planning
and their inter-relationships rest on a number of core issues, the most prominent of
which is rights and responsibilities of national governments to shape and determine
nationally significant issues. Within a changed government structure that emphasises
devolved, regional, and local governance, how can a UK-wide government 'control'
the planning process(es) to assist in action on national priorities when the very defini
tion of national in planning terms has changed over the last ten years? The Brown
Government is currently facing this challenge in the debate on planning reform and
the need to determine national infrastructure issues (such as airport runway exten
sions), but the principle applies equally well on questions of national policy within
planning and how this filters down to other layers of planning that are based on

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Commentary 685

enhanced local and regional participation, discretion and subsidiarity, aspects of

planning that formed the democratic bulwark in the post-war period. Assessment
of future land use needs can occur at the national scale, but the key question is how
action will be achieved through the legal and administrative machinery in an increas
ingly multi-agency policy and decision context?

If planning is everything, maybe it's nothing

Healey et al. (1988) identified planning as a mix of process: bureaucratic-legal;
techno-rational; semi-judicial; consultative; and politico-rational. Brindley et al.
(1989) additionally identified a temporal and spatial dimension to planning. In 2009,
we might say that the revised components of planning indicate that UK planning is:
participative and negotiable;
integrative and coordinative;
political, spatial and temporal;
fluid, diverse and adaptable; and

Planning is now concerned with efficient and integrative planning decisions, and is
most effective when it utilises a range of tools and processes and harnesses actors and
resources to deliver outcomes. It remains a regulatory mechanism, but is also a fluid
supportive and facilitating process. It remains a function of the state and of the market,
intended to bring about sustainable development. Encompassing its democratic roots,
it operates in the interests of a range of public and private concerns, and is achieved
through negotiation and partnership. Above all, planning is concerned with managing
the externalities arising from taking sustainable development decisions. A variety of
activities may be labelled 'planning', and so we should not be obsessed about using
the planning label all the time to describe all these processes and styles. Planning has
indeed cast off its modern socialist era trappings and is a twenty-first century activity,
but equally it can never be static.
Planning has always had to face considerable challenges and difficulties in
addressing the problems of today and the burdens of tomorrow and has always been
adapted to meet those needs. The problems for planning today are how to resolve
problems within a complex environment on issues that are rarely discrete in nature.
The increased number of purposes of planning may stretch it to the point that it
deals with everything and solves nothing. Take the environment, for example: the
government provides planning policy guidance on issues such as flood risk and climate
change, but these are policy advisory tools and take their place alongside a range of

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686 Mark Tewdwr-Jones

other policy advice issued by government on such matters as infrastructure pr

housing development, retail change, and economic development. In many way
ability for planning to transform and adapt to suit changing needs and condit
the crux of the problem; over decades, successive governments have told pla
predominantly at the local level, to take account of a range of national polic
in formulating their own strategies, but have rarely prioritised one issue over anot
While this may seem a sensible approach, particularly in tackling climate
governments are notoriously reluctant to state this explicitly within planning
of upsetting politically other parts of the planning equation - and perhaps, mo
nently, property and development interests. Similarly, the government is relu
impose a direction in a particular substantive policy area for fear of being acc
riding roughshod over other democratically elected tiers, an issue made even s
as planning has embraced stakeholder participation at the grassroots level.
We therefore have an endless list of issues for planners to address locally and
ally, all of which are proclaimed by government to be relevant and important
planning has to incorporate. Planners will respond, but may equally be u
to stray into more innovative solutions for fear of acting against other gover
policies that stress other pro-development agendas. This is of little surprise
not only planning policy falls between stools, but also national and regional
and responsibilities - aspects of planning are shaped by not only the Dep
for Communities and Local Government, but also the Treasury, the Depa
for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the Department for Transpo
Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs and other departments.

A renaissance of policy- and strategy-making in planning is occurring across the UK
and is being mirrored at the local level too in local planning processes and in commu
nity involvement, although, naturally enough, this optimism remains patchy at the
moment. Should people be concerned about whether this is called spatial planning,
good planning, or just integrative governance? The fact of the matter is that these
processes are occurring today in a fragmented and very diverse state. A final tension
in this landscape of planning and one to watch concerns the relationship between the
formal planning system (government policy making at all tiers and their associated
plans and strategies) and shadow or ad-hoc strategy and delivery bodies.
There is much evidence of governments being more than willing to parachute in
delivery mechanisms that stand outside elected tiers of government and indeed the
formal planning tools in order to provide expedited arrangements for change. The
Thames Gateway is one obvious example, but so were the new towns, the urban
development corporations, enterprise zones, urban regeneration companies, business

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Commentary 687

improvement districts, LSPs, and so on. These are set up with a specific purpose
and do not necessarily fall under the remit of taking into account national planning
policy (or, for that matter, in the interests of sustainable development), since, under the
planning legislation, they may not be technically 'planning bodies'. As a consequence,
since they are outside the system, there is a danger that they fail to address the broader
suite of policy issues that planning authorities are required to.
The spirit and purpose of planning is in danger of collapsing from its remark
able ability to transform itself and take on so many divergent policy expectations; it
is in danger of having too many bolt-ons added to its agenda caused by governments
not willing to provide strong direction for fear of upsetting political forces. This is
particularly evident in the context of the spatial planning agenda that is supposed to
be more about balancing and integrating competing agendas and policy, but is also
increasingly locally shaped. Places need to renew, to be economically buoyant, to be
efficient in transport networks and infrastructure, to be sustainable, to be secure, to
provide sufficient and quality housing, accessible to all, and to be above all exciting
places for people.
Planning has always been associated with making difficult choices between
competing demands on the land, but those choices - and more significantly the impli
cations of those choices - have escalated over the last 20 years, taking into account
democratic necessities, in addition to national, regional and local interests, economic,
environmental and social needs, infrastructure provision, protection of the best
landscapes, and the provision of new homes and sustained economic growth. It could
be argued that we have arrived at the present form of planning - integrating, negoti
ating, compromising between scores of vested interests and overlapping and contra
dictory policy expectations - directly as a result of 60 years of government and policy
steer and the planning system's ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Facing so many directions simultaneously is a useful planning trick, but it is in
danger of undermining its own credibility. Sooner or later, priorities for action need
to be set. And this prioritisation process is bound to have implications for democratic
involvement in planning, for directions for change, and for levels of responsibility. The
questions of who decides in future, for what sort of planned future, within an agreed
and shared set of planning principles, are bound to become increasingly pertinent

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