Planning has become increasingly disconnected from peoples’ lives because it no longer deals with many of the issues people care about. At the same time much of the political and media debate about the future of planning has become a largely sterile discussion of the merits of continued deregulation. Everyone should have a right, irrespective of earnings, to a decent home
Planning has played a transformational role in improving the quality of life of all of our communities. It has a critical responsibility, along with wider public interventions, to tackle entrenched poverty. Planning has the potential to enhance our wellbeing by ensuring access to high quality environments and economic opportunities and to give communities a voice in their future.
It is easy to forget that the planning movement sprang from the public health movement and the Victorian slums in the 19th century. It went beyond the basic drive to deliver more homes in a sanitary environment, to encompass designing an entire community, addressing social isolation and founded on a cooperative ethos. From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, 32 New Towns were built in the UK, towns which now house 2.6 million people. In London and numerous other cities, many people continue to live in the social housing designed in the 1920s and 1930s and in the well intentioned, but ultimately misguided, post-war high-rise blocks.
Planning offered people a better way of life, and as a nation we shared a collective ambition to rebuild Britain after both world wars. However, the post-war period saw a retrenchment of the explicit social aims of planning and a greater focus on technical professionalism.
That is why we have set out to reframe the debate about the future of planning through ‘Planning out Poverty’, a year-long research project by the Town and Country Planning Association and supported by the Webb Memorial Trust.
Our report is based on the study and analysis of four communities who are seeking a pathway to regeneration. They were selected for their diverse socio-economic backgrounds, distinct patterns of social exclusion and different urban spatial scales:
- Anfield, Liverpool – an inner-city Victorian community
- Shirebrook in the Derbyshire Coalfields – an ex-industrial rural town
- Middleton and Belle Isle, Leeds – part of a major inter-war social housing development based on Garden City principles
- Tottenham Hale, London Borough of Haringey – a diverse inner-city community.
The project provides strong evidence that planning could play a much more positive role by fully integrating (within both local and national public policy) with sectors such as regeneration and health and by reconnecting with issues that matter to local people. In an era of economic austerity and welfare reform, alongside the continued deregulation of planning, it is more important than ever that planning can deal with specific issues such as poverty reduction as well as in the wider public interest.
This reinvention of ‘social town planning’ will require a re-visioning of planning within wider social policy, rather than being left within a legislative cul de sac. Everyone should have a right, irrespective of earnings, to a decent home in a safe environment that helps promote their long-term wellbeing.
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* Kate Henderson is Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association