The British planning system has evolved as a result of various social, economic and political events that took place in the last two centuries. The planning system is constantly evolving and now the emphasis is being given to ensure that the planning system is flexible so that it could cope with diverse requirements and keep up with the pace of changing nature of problems. Planners were regarded as experts who were given the liberty of modelling and predicting the future of cities. The local council took decision when an area was to be redeveloped. In 1972, an area called Millfield in Sunderland in the north east of England was taken under clearance and redevelopment by the local council. They decided to rehouse the residents. They were nineteenth century single storey terraces to house the factory workers.
Local council secured money from the Central government for the redevelopment of the area. Inspite of Millfield having a powerful residents association, it seemed as though they were only to defend the decisions of the planners and announced their plans. Planners paid little or no attention to the views of the public. To add to this, the chairman of the planning committee requested the residents association to address all correspondence to the planners and not him and he explained to them that the planning committee followed the recommendations of the planners. The planners remained adamant regarding the issue of public addressing the planners directly instead of the Chairman.
There was a huge consultation gap. Planners did not consider it necessary to consult the public on the planning matters. This led to a number of factual inaccuracies because Council failed to look get adequately involved with the matters concerning the public. Although there were some meetings between the planners and the residents association in which the planners only announced their plans and took no notes of the opinion of the people in the residents association.
The British planning system evolved as a result of various social, economic and political events that took place in the last two centuries. Initially, town planners had the sole responsibility for making decisions about the development and redevelopment of towns and cities. It was only after the post-war period that the importance and relevance of public participation was realized and taken into consideration. This apportion of decision-making power to the public brought about a change in the role of planners in society, from being sole controllers to advocates. Planning theories were developed with a view to provide a firm base for the planning practitioners. The relationship between planning theory and planning practice has always been under constant deliberation and is still evolving.
In earlier days, planners worked in a professional and politically controlled system. The discussions and plans were presented in a professional way which consisted of technical jargon that the public could not be expected to understand (Glass, 1959 cited in Cullingworth and Nadin, 2006). At the time, however, planners were perceived as acting in the general public interest, and hence the lack of public participation and political debate was not recognized as a problem.
During the post-war period, the need for urban and rural development became a necessity. Housing estates were being constructed with few amenities and urban centres rebuilt along with motorways to take in increasing traffic. Development in the villages was neglected and they suffered from a lack of proper infrastructure (Cullingworth and Nadin, 2006). This led to the destruction of social and physical fabric of the place and put planners in a difficult situation. Planners were seen as hostile figures and planning was conceived as bad (Allmendinger, 2009). Public participation was then introduced by Town and Country Planning Act in 1968 (Williams, 1984). Planning authorities created informal mechanisms which encouraged participation of local communities and interest groups to play a part in formulating and implementing planning policy.
Role of Planning Theorists from a Planning Practitioner’s viewpoint
Planning theory has always been criticised by a number of practitioners. They are of the opinion that planning theory does not make sense. It does not link planning practice. Sandercock and Forsysth, 1992 argue that there is a huge gap between planning theory and planning practice. However, there are some other planners who believe that planning theory plays a significant role in planning practice and cannot be ignored. Friedmann, 2003 argued that planning practice cannot exist without planning theory. Planning theory acts as a base for the planning practitioners to present solutions to the practical problems in planning.
The planning system would not work without theories. Theories act as a base for the planning practioners.
A lot of confusion revolves around the relationship between planning theory and planning practice. I decided to interview one of the planning practitioner. I had an opportunity to interview one of the councillors named Paula Goncalves at Brighton & Hove City Council. Her point of view was in favour of planning theorists.
Here is what she explained:
Theorists try to make sense of what happens in planning (how policies are devised, how decisions are made, how particular interests influence policy making and implementation, the role planners, politicians, developers, communities and others involved in the planning process interact and so) .
There are various ways in which theorists do this.
Some seek to identify patterns and to describe/explain in a structured manner how planning works to produce in order to improve how things are done.
Others use seek theory to communicate a more radical vision of places should be like, their utopia, let’s say.
What is clear is that planning theory changes over time and even at any particular time it is likely that there will be a number of different, at times, competing visions of what planning should do.