The fall and rise of strategic planning

Image from Flickr user Sebastian Niedlich, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

Image from Flickr user Sebastian Niedlich, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

By Morwen Johnson

Throughout the history of planning there has been a continuing morphing of ideas and practices – reflecting changing circumstances, fashions and understandings about the role of planning in a modern society. Now it seems that recent economic and investment constraints are leading to a rise in interest in strategic planning again within the UK.

Professor Greg Lloyd, in a recent piece in our journal Scottish Planning and Environmental Law, suggests that this builds on the experiences of land-use planning (a British notion) and spatial planning – drawing on an emergent tradition in European terms. It seems obvious that the challenges of economic growth, housing need and environmental improvement do not respect the arbitrary boundaries of local authorities, or the short-term lifecycles of our political systems. And yet the effective implementation of strategic planning practice remains elusive.

A recent RTPI policy paper advocated a strengthening of strategic planning to secure greater co-operation with respect to development and to facilitate city regions. This comes as local authorities are now required, under the Localism Act, to co-operate and take a lead on addressing issues that cross boundaries and impact on the ‘larger than local’ area.

Professor Lloyd points out that within Scotland, the emphasis on strategic planning has been more consistent over time, and formed the backbone of governance for land use and development within Scottish planning practice. Within the London context of course, the Mayor is responsible for London’s planning at a strategic level, as set out in the London Plan. And Janice Morphet, in a recent article, argued that planning is “fundamentally concerned with delivery, based on social economic and environmental principles” and the current shift in scale towards combined authorities and neighbourhoods may “herald a bright future” for strategic spatial planning.

Contemporary strategic planning is therefore under the spotlight as a delivery solution to complex problems. The RTPI suggests that done well, strategic planning offers an efficient process for responsive, deliberative, collaborative and accountable decision-making. However this requires the planning profession to demonstrate skills of analysis, interpretation, risk assessment and visioning of place, as well as community engagement and facilitation skills. It also raises potential conflict in terms of planner’s roles as employees working in the public interest, as opposed to advocates for communities.

Inevitably strategic planning requires trade-offs between different interests and stakeholders. But successfully negotiating these diverse interests is not something that happens by chance. And the planning profession needs to recognise the key role they play in mitigating these tensions. If we are to have planning systems which support quality placemaking and long-term sustainability (as well as economic growth), then process cannot be an end in itself. Planners should take this opportunity to provide leadership, and enable dialogue on strategic planning, at local, sub-regional and national level.


Further reading

New lexicons of planning. Greg Lloyd, Scottish Planning and Environmental Law, No 168 Apr (2015)

Strategic planning: a bright future ahead. Janice Morphet, Town and Country Planning, Vol 84 No 4 (2015)

Strategic planning: effective co-operation for planning across boundaries. Royal Town Planning Institute (2015)

The demise of strategic planning? The impact of the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategy in a growth region. Martin Boddy and Hannah Hickman, Town Planning Review, Vol 84 No 6 (2013)

If you are interested in research, opinion and comment on planning, we have launched a special subscription offer to the Idox Information Service for RTPI Members.

2 thoughts on “The fall and rise of strategic planning

  1. Pingback: Season’s readings: looking back on a year of blogging, and looking forward to 2016 | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  2. Pingback: The changing landscape of planning: views from the Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference 2015 | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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