November 09, 2009
Matej Privrel ERASMUS Exchange Student
The history of planning system as a policy in the UK dates back to the mid-19th century, when it started to concern mostly health and social problems in urbanising areas. The emergence of the systems in a wider scope, within the world, was in those times taking diverse directions, the result of which is noticeable in the differences among spatial planning cultures nowadays. It could be said that there are always three subjects playing either an active or a passive role in the planning process – government, markets and the public. The degree of their participation depends mostly on the political regime, the actual government, the economic climate in the country and the ability (but also the will) to get involved. Planning as such might be portrayed as a positive, pro-active and strategic place-making activity on the one hand or as a negative, regulatory and reactive function on the other. Fluctuation between these two characters of planning was observable throughout the history, when planners raised the question: Who should planning be addressed to? To the business and private sector, which are boosting the economy through taxes, both locally and centrally, but require faster solutions in order to meet actual market demands? Or to a chiefly stagnant and ‘more public’ function where the decision-making is slower and economically not that viable? The answer seems to be ambiguous. The aim of this essay is therefore to discuss how the potential tension between speed and community engagement has been dealt in the main reforms, during developing the planning system in England, since World War II.
The turning period around the end of the war could be characterised not only by the country suffering from the aftermaths of the war but also by weakness of the state machinery. District and county borough councils were generally small and powerless. As a result of this, developers were all too often misusing the system as they believed that no local authority would face pulling down existing buildings (cf. Wood 1949: 45). Obviously, without having a state power above developers, there was no sign of public engagement either. All the essential apparatus in the post-war period was provided by Town and Country Planning Acts, the Distribution of Industry Acts, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, the New Town Act and the Town Development Acts. As a breath of fresh air after the war came ‘The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947’, that took all the development under control by making it subject to planning permission. Development plans
were to be prepared for every area in the country. Moreover, development rights were nationalised and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which became responsible for the coordination of local plans. These changes did not foster the development in any way. Instead, circumstances led to the ‘regulatory era’ where neither public nor private sectors were successful in ‘rebuilding Britain’ (to use one of the popular slogans at the end of the war). Additionally, there was no tension between community engagement and speed (‘slowness’ would be more appropriate) as there was still no reference to public involvement in the plan-making process. The first post-war economic boom sparked off in 1953 when both the development charge and building licensing from previous years were abolished. This reversal in policy contributed its part to a continuous 20-year period of economic growth and rise of living standards. The position of planners reached a level, where they were regarded as trusted experts transferring scientific progress to solve problems of political and social organisation (Hague 1984). At that time, lack of public participation was not recognised as a problem. Professionals were perceived as acting in the general public interest. ‘Planning proposals are generally...