Planning Reforms at the Birmingham Fringe


The current debate over the future of the planning system has risen to the top of the news agenda over recent weeks. To bring this to the regional arena, Birmingham City University and the University of Birmingham are co-hosting the UK-Ireland International Planning Research Conference at the University of Birmingham this week (12-14th September).

The event brings nearly 200 academics and policy makers across the world together to critically review the current state of planning at a time of unprecedented uncertainty. The timing of this conference with the current furore of the National Planning Framework in England is especially significant.

Today (Monday 12th September) a special session is looking at the management and planning of the urban-rural fringe; the key space where town meets countryside. This is an especially important issue given the current Coalition government’s proposals to radically reform the planning system via the National Planning Framework concomitant with the need for planning to be at the forefront of delivering sustainable development.

Professor Alister Scott, Professor of Spatial Planning & Governance at Birmingham City University believes the current media emphases give a misleading impression of the real issues surrounding the future of urban-fringe landscapes. He said: “Our current research on the fringe shows us that the zone where town meets countryside is diverse and multifunctional. So called green space is actually developed space as part of modern agriculture which produces food and other environmental goods and services (landscape, biodiversity, carbon mitigation, flood defence etc) as well as providing public access for recreation. Therefore development is so much more than building houses. Good planning is about providing mixed development solutions based on the specific qualities of particular places and communities”.

We need to identify the full set of development needs; environmental, economic and social for the long term and join up agencies and service deliverers to make strategic plans for areas. Not for 20 years hence but for the next 50 years and so move away from the knee jerk planning and uncertainty we now face.

Professor Scott is presenting his team’s emerging research findings, as part of the RELU programme, on the rural urban fringe. “Research into the nature, scope and potential of the urban-rural fringe is vital as for too long these areas have been neglected with the consequent effect of fragmented and ad-hoc planning. Rarely has the urban-rural fringe been planned as a place in its own right set within any long term plan. The current media debate shows graphically the lack of understanding of these spaces and their potential,” he added.

Under the coalition’s proposals the key to future planning lies with the notion of what is meant by sustainable development as the new planning system will have a presumption in favour of sustainable development. Professor Scott believes that translating this nebulous term into a meaningful agenda is crucial. He said: “sustainable development is about ensuring we identify and meet the needs of society (not individual interests). It is about ensuring that, in doing so, we don’t breach environmental, social or economic limits. So we need good science and indicators to measure the current state, the likely impacts of what we intend and key tipping points. It means where we don’t have all the necessary information we exercise the precautionary principle. We therefore need evidence based policy and decisions to move forward. This means that important planning decisions should not be rushed through without proper regard.”

The urban-rural fringe zones across the world are experiencing immense development pressures and we believe that future management decisions must be based on good research. The session on the urban-rural fringe aims to illuminate key lessons for the management of such spaces and help people realise their considerable potential.

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