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Effective planning systems and tools?

UK's Planning Minister Mr. Brandon Lewis launched on September 15 of this year an expert group to speed up development and to explore the effectiveness of local planning and how it can be simplified

While the intention behind this panel is to bring a greater certainty to local authorities regarding plans for new homes and infrastructure and a quicker and easier process for developers, it is important to place focus on the quality of the outcomes and on whether simplifying procedures and regulations alone is able to promote the desired development and benefit to communities. The situation in Greater London - stagnation in some neighbourhoods and boroughs, lack of affordable housing, reduced budgets allocated to health, mental health and schools in an increasingly market-led society - reveals the need to explore the efficiency of the planning system at all stages more deeply. London is growing as a highly competitive city with expanding markets and outreach, but on the other hand gaps are increasing in the world-leading economic capital as recently revealed by London Fairness Commission and the Guardian who led an enquiry among the population.

It is important to explore whether the planning system provides communities with the necessary tools to lead a proactive planning, permits them to make strategic choices and decisions and enables an integrated approach to development capable of ensuring prosperous boroughs and neighbourhoods with flourishing business environments, good living conditions, and good and fair service provision with an active involvement of local communities.

One of the important issues that I explored in my Ph.D. (2007) on urban revitalisation through the example of waterfront redevelopment was the ability of existing planning systems and planning instruments to enable and prompt qualitative development and revitalisation of urban neighbourhoods and to make an effective employment of their potentials at all scales. I explored possibilities offered and limitations imposed by existing planning systems and the impacts of different partnership forms and management aspects in various political-economic systems on the development process and its outcomes. Although my focus was on North European cases, I looked onto other examples, including in the UK and benefited much from analysing the evolution of urban regeneration approaches and related management forms in the UK over the past decades. My research resulted in a better understanding and good conclusions able to inspire further work on improving European planning systems.

One of the important conclusions of my Ph.D. and later professional work is the need to rethink planning approaches, planning processes and planning instruments so that planning can provide flexible answers and become more effective in prompting sustainable, liveable and dynamic city environments. Planning authorities often tend to amend urban planning and tighten or ease guidelines for local planning, while more dynamic, more cross-sector integrated and multi-level strategic approaches to planning, sustainability and management are needed.

While a number of issues can be resolved at the local plan level, other important issues require decision and cooperation across different governmental levels. This is better able to ensure a qualitative development that uses all available resources and knowledge and that takes all sides of community development, challenges and community involvement into account so that cities can become both effective, connected and faire.

The current work on improving the planning system in the UK can hopefully lead to a new innovation in planning.

© Roudaina Al Khani

30th September 2015

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