A new ‘Battle of Britain’ looms between town and country planners, warns expert


The furore between policy-makers and campaigners over reforms to the nation’s planning system is becoming bogged down in a damaging ‘town versus countryside’ debate, say national expert.

“Not only is this sterile but it’s damaging to both our rural and urban economies,” says Alister Scott, Professor of Spatial Planning and Governance at Birmingham City University.

“Crucially countryside and town should not be separated within different planning approaches but would be better integrated, based on proper assessment of needs, assets and sustainability.”

Professor Scott made his comments in the run-up to a controversial planning review announcement. Coinciding with Budget Day (Wednesday, March 21) Chancellor George Osborne is expected to liberalise environmental protection to help boost economic growth – and green campaigners fear the decision will be a ‘Black Wednesday’ for the countryside.

“At present the planning system is heading towards a disintegration of planning policies with Defra producing their own policy suite under the Natural Environment White Paper while the Communities and Local Government department under their pending National Planning Policy Framework,” said Professor Scott.

“This separation of policy is disintegrating opportunities for joined up planning which is key to future economic prosperity.”

Professor Scott, from Birmingham School of the Built Environment at Birmingham City University, also challenges any simplistic, one-dimensional view of planning policy.
On the one hand the idea advanced by some that the countryside should be protected for its own sake is misplaced.

“We need a multifunctional countryside with a diversified economy moving beyond 1940s ideas that the countryside economy should be built on agriculture and forestry with development confined to our towns.

“There can be no one size fits all solutions - rather policies should be tailored to local situations. On the other hand the idea that environmental protection and planning policy should be relaxed in the name of economic growth is equally damaging.

“The Treasury view that planning and the environment are the enemy of growth is fundamentally wrong. Indeed many of our protected environments secure important outcomes for our countryside in terms of climate change mitigation, good water quality and health.

“Many planners work on the principle of attracting good quality development into places despite politicians changing the planning system at every turn. The enemy of growth is uncertainty and the disintegration of planning policy.

“The loss of strategic planning is a bitter blow to joined-up planning which the Local Enterprise Partnerships are ill suited to address given their one dimensional remit.”

Professor Scott will share his views as keynote speaker at the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’s annual conference, to be held in Birmingham on Wednesday 21 March.

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