Thursday, August 15, 2013

Proud of Planning?

When new Royal Town Planning President Dr Peter Geraghty took up his position he launched a Facebook page "Proud of Planning  Proud of Planners'.  At the risk of repeating thoughts from previous blogs (I have a limited number of points to be made about planning that could be of wider interest) I would like to add a strap line to the DanthePlan blog 'Ashamed of planning Ashamed of Planners'.  I do not do Facebook so I do not know where the President's page might interface with Dan's blog - if at all. In cloud possibly?

Am I being harsh?  Well the President has two choices.  He can be proud of the roles that planning has played and continues to play and agree to be judged on the results, or he can side with me and claim that planners have really had very little influence over the course of development over the last 65 years and seek no credit for or attach no blame to the profession.   Taking the former position the President would have to explain why the typical user of the built environment/settlement pattern created (planned?) over the last 65 years emits about 10 tonnes of carbon - approximately ten times the level that is believed to be sustainable (see the Climate Change Act and the reports of the 2011 Carbon Plan and other reports from the Committee on Climate Change).  Problems associated with carbon emissions have been known about for decades and I have not been aware of professional planners doing much about this growing problem.  Whilst 'planning' and 'planners' could reasonably be expected to react to early warnings, the abject failure of the system and its professionals to do so was regrettable.  Now that the problem is in the public domain, the fact that planners are still noted for their absence in leading the way towards an energy descent to sustainable levels of consumption and emissions should disqualify the planning profession from taking any serious part in resolving the problem.

Taking the alternative view that professional planners have been spectators rather than players in the development industry that has been run by architects, surveyors, politicians bankers and a variety of lobbyists might suggest that we (including me) should not be described as a profession.  However, the advantage of adopting what I believe to be a more accurate and honest view of the past could (not should) mean that we might be trusted with planning the future.

Peering through the blinds into a very murky future and putting my scepticism about planning and planners on hold, I can see that there might be a role for planning if the goal of sustainable development is to be realised.  Most of the urban and rural environment will have to adapt to a low carbon world in ways that will have little or nothing to do with the planning system.  However, in some important ways new development can be harnessed as a driver for change - and who is better placed to take advantage of this energy and put it to good effect?  Previous blogs will have discussed the components of a low carbon (and convivial) world but the list includes, co-housing, group/self-building, local food supply systems including new smallholdings and market gardens around all settlements, renewable energy in many different forms, public transport systems and car clubs leaving private car ownership for suckers, a massive increase (step change) in planting and biodiversity, MUGAs (mixed use games areas) everywhere and a cafe in every street and a pub on every corner.  Even if co-housing needs to be given time, almost all new housing should be of 2 bedrooms, or designed at the outset to be easily subdivided (this might need a separate blog) to be made attractive to the 5 million households wanting to downsize in the next few years to reduce the scandalous level of under-occupancy in the private sector, and/or to first time buyers and renters.

No Mr President I am not proud to be a planner but can see a role for us if we took the lead on what is and what is not sustainable. At present 'planners' are occupying the space where urgent action should be taken to save and replenish the environment and getting in the way of those who could be doing a better job of it.

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