As the UK economy teeters on the edge of a depression, a debate has emerged on the value of economic growth as the key indicator of prosperity. Tim Jackson is the leading proponent of the argument that society needs a different metric. This argument puts particular pressures on the planning system as it seeks to shape our built and natural environment to meet our needs and desires. Since the state today has only a facilitative role in relation to urban development, we collectively depend on private market processes to deliver urban change and maintain beloved features of our environment. We need private sector-led urban development to deliver urban regeneration; we need a buoyant property market to safeguard historic buildings. The planning system struggles to meet its objectives in the absence of economic growth.
Is there no way out of this trap? Well, the planning system could decide to operate in a different way in at least some locations, probably those most subject to the flight of capital. Here it could promote community-based activities and low value land uses. It could decide that consumption-led regeneration is not the way forward. It could instead use the voluntary resources of communities to deliver environmental improvements and, most importantly, protect the results from any renewed interest by the private market. A bold form of localism for the planning system to pursue but perhaps one with genuine benefits for at least some communities.
Yvonne Rydin, author of The purpose of planning, publishing this month.