The Plans That Work

Ian Wray (Heseltine Institute) & Lucy Natarajan (UCL)
13 Jan 2023

This special issue 48(4) entitled The Power of Plans is the result of many years of deliberations about how planning is thought to work. We’ve been particularly struck by the ways that - across scholarship, media and indeed practice - planning is derided as mere licencing for development rather than supported as a maker of places. The strategic spatial dimension of planning is frequently missed while ‘disasters’ hook into our consciousness. In England, the entire profession has been repeatedly undercut. One District Council (West Lancashire) is so lacking resources that it has been unable to complete its statutory duties relating to planning applications.

Calls for better planning at least recognise that interventions are needed. But little attention is paid to how those plans are achieved, when they are. Rather than point the finger at the zeitgeist of clickbait and doom scrolling, we wanted to provide insights into the ways that planning makes for positive change and the power it wields to develop and regenerate effectively, whilst conserving natural resources wisely.

To understand the power of plans then we needed to get under the skin of schemes that worked. We wanted to hear the untold stories: what practitioners thought, how they approached spatial challenges, and how they explained plans taking off. These positive stories are not often told. We found willing and extremely able contributors, happy to reflect on their own high-profile works, alongside excellent writers and researchers, who could draw back the veil on the institutions of planning.

Contributing planners come from USA, others from Europe (including from our tiny island), as well as scholars working with plans in China and India. They all demonstrated a pride in planning, without arrogance and certainly accepting of mistakes yet maintaining belief in spatial strategy and its importance to the public interest. They all looked to the long term horizon for power which we conceive of as a Tri-Structure.

 Figure 1: Powerful Plans as Tri-Strutures (Source: authors own)

The USA’s Regional Plan Association (RPA) is a great example whose strategies emerge from civil society, acting as an independent civic group. Key to RPA's success is that planners back their ideas and lobby for them. They get off the fence and ‘get out in front’ of politicians with their proposals. Bob Yaro is still doing this, and his contributions help kick off a mini series in the 50 Shades of Planning podcast. He speaks in the first of a mini-series of three issues of 50 Shades of Planning podcast for the special issue  follow us on Twitter (@Blogged_Env).

From Ireland we have two fabulous contributions. Ruth Jackson and Lynn Basford share their views on the power within vision itself. They find expressions of authenticity have lasting impact and help to carry forward initial plans for the long term without losing sight of core elements that relate to quality of place (see for instance the definition of PlaceAlliance). The believability of plans within public perceptions was also critical in Pat Mangan, Jim Steer and Neil Chadwick’s paper - as Jim Steer expounds in a second 50 Shades podcast.

We looked to China, and the ambitious plans developed to drive forward the break neck expansion of Shenzen. We also looked to Liverpool, once Britain’s greatest imperial port, but since the 1960s a city beset with enormous social, political, economic and environmental problems. Lessons from Shenzen are touched on in the third 50 Shades podcast. In both cities, at different ends of the economic spectrum, our contributors, Michael Parkinson and Mee Kam Ng, found common ground in the inescapable need for sound plans and capable state structures.

Last, but perhaps most importantly, the power of plans in the face of environmental and climate implications is highlighted with cases from France and India. Luc-Émile Bouche Florin expounds on the power within the EU convention see in the production of landscape protections, and Chandrima Mukhopadhyay explores the strategy that is needed to secure the long terms protections offered by the wetlands to settlements in the Bay of Bengal.

The evidence is clear enough: plans really work. Effective plans are the way to solve the problems which so beset us, not further retreat into disintegration, deregulation and despair.



As ever we welcome further Built Environment blogs & tweets on this theme!    


Listing Image/Image 1: Powerful Plans as Tri-Strutures (Source: Wray & Natarajan, © author)