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The planning movement has been one of the most influential mechanisms for delivering sustainable development and social justice for over a century. It began as a visionary and progressive force, a movement which blended utopian garden cities with environmental protection and a radical idea about redistributing resources for ordinary people

It was expressed as much in art and literature as in technicalities but it had a pragmatic heart.  It knew the importance of getting the right investment models and it also knew how important a rational landscape for growth was to private sector investors.  

Many have argued though that in the last few decades planning has become increasingly bureaucratic as well as disconnected from local people. In response to this, the Coalition Government has set about a radical reform to the planning system with two primary goals; to shift power from the centre to the local and community level through the Localism Act and to promote economic growth though a series of deregulatory reforms to the planning system.

Over concerns of inappropriate risks to the countryside, the media debate presented around the publication of the draft National Planning Policy Framework last summer put housing and the environment as diametric opposites, even if this was not the view of the organisations whose voices were involved.

This was unhelpful as the environment and the promotion of social justice should not be seen in opposition. The early pioneers of the planning movement were able to hold ideas of social justice and protecting and enhancing the natural environment together.  With the announcement of the new planning framework expected alongside the Budget this week, we await to see if Ministers will have ensured that the planning reforms deliver a strong and fair economy without undermining the quality of life of local people, or the environment. 

To achieve this, it is most important the new framework includes a clear definition of “sustainable development”, in line with the current UK Sustainable Development Strategy, which recognises the environmental challenges we face, and which benefits society by preventing speculative developers from overriding local plans and the views of local residents.

To meet the needs of a growing and ageing population, we have to reverse the shortage of affordable homes. The role of planning must be to reconcile as best as possible the social, environmental and economic issues and ensure the right kind of development happens in the right places.

The Prime Minister’s support for the garden city principles in his speech on Monday recognises the balance that this movement was able to achieve in delivering high quality inclusive places with jobs that also made the most of their natural surroundings.

 We must aim for a shared vision where those who rightly strive for the protection of the natural environment are equally active on social justice; and which makes those who push us into crude economic cost-benefit judgments confront the priceless value of the natural environment to our well-being. Consensus is vital, but it can only be reignited by re-exploring the very highest ambitions of the founders of the planning movement

Written by Kate Henderson
Tuesday, 20 March 2012 15:03

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