whatever happened to planning?

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  • Bookwatch Whatever happened to planning? There is an abundance of texts on planning law and on planning policy, but they are generally expository, rather than analytical and critical. Those who write critical books tend to be poles apart from the planning practitioner: they employ a different conceptual framework and often raise issues which 'orthodox' planners find uncomfortable if not baffling. Peter Ambrose, in asking the question Whatever Happened to Planning? (Methuen, 1986), steers a middle course. The discussion is pitched at speci f ic comprehens ib le pol i t ico- planning issues (which is by no means typical of rico-Marxist writers). The writing is clear and free from jargon. The clarity is evident from the first page, where he explains the reason for the book:

    the main reason for writing is to assess how a set of basically generous and rational intentions, the product of a postwar period of collective idealism, is making out in an increasingly cynical and individualistic poli- tical climate. More specifically the inten- tion is to see hove the set of regulatory devices built into the 1947 planning system. which was devised in the context of the 1930s era of land development, is coping with the forces now at work in the develop- ment industry - an industry advanced in its use of management techniques and politic- al lobbying and increasingly international in its structure, organization and access to funds.

    The argument neatly unfolds. The first chapter outlines 'the particular ways in which money is made under capitalist forms of land development, [and] identifies the interests involved prior to 1939'. This is followed by an account of the social and political background to the emergence of post- war planning, and of its unhappy history. Instead of a major interven- tion in the land development process, planning has become preoccupied with the documentation of trends ( 'trend planning'), and with process rather than substance. The demise of planning was accelerated by the ad- vent of the Thatcher Government and

    "a rash of measures" which have re- duced public control over land de- velopment.

    The central part of the book ex- amines the forces which operate to change the built environment: people, finance, the state (local and central government), and the construction in- dustry. Two key 'arenas" of land de- velopment in the 1980s are then ex- amined - the urban fringe and the London Docklands. Finally, there is a succinct evaluation of achievements and shortcomings, and some discus- sion of 'the way forward" - taking into account the fact that 'we live in a largely capitalist economy and it is pointless to write as if truly socialist solutions were possible'.

    Throughout the volume, Ambrose demonstrates the importance of power relationships to planning. He argues eloquently that the forces which really control land development are 'often seriously underva lued ' . Fol lowing Cooke (Theories of Planning and Spa- tial Development, Hutchinson, 1983), he writes:

    Planning emphasises technical expertise and rationality. The constant process of negotiation between planner and develop- er is normally carried out on the safe, technically complicated, terrain provided by current, use-dominated, planning leg- islation. This suits the developer very well. He cannot be asked at a public inquiry such simple, but crucial, questions as 'whose money are you using'?' or 'how much profit do you expect to make?" These would normally be held to be "not relevant plan- ning matters'. Yet they arc the very mat- ters of legitimate concern to the planners and residents of the area in which the developer is working. Without open discus- sion it is impossible to make a realistic assessment of the distribution of benefits and costs arising from a development or to insist on alternative schemes. The discus- sion, in other words, is safely confined to matters technical rather than political.

    This is not, of course, an original idea (nor is it claimed to be); but what makes Ambrose's exposition so telling is his supporting analysis of the opera- tion of the planning system in such

    places as the London Dockhmds. The problems have been greatly exacer- bated by the rise of the multinationals and the new global economy.

    Ambrose has no simple solution. He makes a number of proposals, sometimes very broad (better environ- mental education for the young, and the inclusion of "the distr ibutive effects of planning" in the professional training of planners), sometimes very specific (as with the proposal for the removal of subsidies to house purchas- ers). His most interesting proposal, however, is to stabilize the flow of land on lines suggested by Swedish practice. This looks like a variant of the Community Land Scheme, and is hardly likely to commend itself politi- cally. All in all, 'the way forward" does not look promising. Ambrose himself is clearly pessimistic. Nevertheless, he has succeeded in one of his objectives: to demonstrate to aspiring planners and others who are concerned that a touching faith in the power of planners is not only misplaced; it is positively dangerous. There may be much in this provocative book to argue about, but there is no denying the importance of the issues, nor the skill with which they are presented.

    Complexities It is interesting to pass to a US book which discusses some of the ways in which a different planning system is working. US planning is becoming increasingly sophisticated and com- plex in areas of development pressure or land-use conflicts. The complexities were initially viewed in terms of costly delays, and the perceived need was for ~regulatory simplification' ('streamlin- ing" in UK terminology). This, how- ever, failed to address the substantive problems that arise with conflicting land-use demands, particularly in areas of special resources or amenity. Experience with ad hoc initiatives has led to a growing interest in special management devices. Some of these are described and analysed in a very useful book of papers, Managing Land Use Conflicts: Case Studies in Special Area Management edited by David J. Brower and Daniel S. Carol (Duke University Press, 1987). "Spe-

    372 CITIES November 1987

  • cial Area Management" (inevitably dubbed SAM) is defined as the attempt to manage development in complex ecological and administrative settings. It is a generic process to:

    1. resolve management conflicts: 2. provide greater predictability and

    assurance for both conservation and development interests;

    3. focus and streamline a set of management strategies;

    4. provide varying outcomes de- pending on the nature of the special area, the available man- agement tools, and the partici- pants in the process.

    The third point is especially impor- tant, "for while the particular manage- ment tools, actors, and legal author- ities may vary between areas, the attempt to focus management into a single setting is what distinguishes special area management from more traditional management forms'. The detailed case studies demonstrate that establishing a 'single setting', whether it be an ad hoc agency or a forum for the resolution of conflicts, is thwart with difficulties. Moreover, as Clark and McCreary stress in their study of estuarine reserves, throughout the lengthy processes involved in the for- mal steps of planning, 'the presence of local political support and active parti- cipation of the local scientific com- munity plays an important part in the success or failure of a proposed site'.

    The point constantly arises in one guise or another. In the Adirondack Park, the ad hoc agency has had a hard time of working with the local governments; in the Upper Delaware Valley, the clumsy actions of the 'foreign' National Park Service cre- ated a political impasse; in the New Jersey Pinelands, a new ad hoc com- mission had to operate in a field already crowded with others agencies and programmes: the New Jersey Coastal Management Program, the Casino Control Commission (for Atlantic City), the State Development Guide Plan, the New Jersey Water Supply Master Plan, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commis- sion, the South Jersey Resource Con- servation and Development Council and so on, not to mention the 59 local

    governments in the area who are typically more interested in develop- ment than in preservation.

    The case studies provide a wealth of detail on these and other SAM initia- tives. A short final chapter sets out some conclusions. SAM tends to work well in areas where existing institu- tions have failed, and where there is agreement that new institutional arrangements are required. Given this, "an important attraction of spe- cial area management is that it offers the means to see the big picture that often may be lacking under the pre- vious management structure." But a SAM process is always in jeopardy of one or other of the participating agen- cies obtaining an advantageous posi- tion: "assurance must therefore be provided that all parties" views will have an equal or mutually acceptable weight'.

    There is more in similar vein, illus- trated by the material in the case studies. Rather than attempt to summarize the summary, attention here is finally focused on a particularly interesting 'management tool fostered by the special area management pro- cess'. This is none other than the now familiar (in the USA) transfer of development rights (TDR). This is a technique which in essence shares out the costs and benefits of a manage- ment scheme. For example, in the Pinelands, 'development credits' are allocated by a formula to owners in preservation areas (the 'sending" areas), and sold on the open market for use in regional growth areas (the 'receiving' areas). Sellers of develop- ment credits have a deed restriction placed on their propert