Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Professor of Town Planning, spoke to the House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment in July 2015. The committee has now issued the Building Better Places document, which outlines its findings and recommendations.
Professor Tewdwr-Jones is one of the country’s leading authorities on planning, land use, historic and contemporary urban change, and community participation in places. He gave evidence to the Peers about the need for national leadership and co-ordination in planning policy and called for the government to be more joined up in its thinking.
Thinking of the impact of flooding, protecting the countryside and new house building, he said: “This can be co-ordinated only by the Cabinet Office. It cannot be coordinated by different spending departments; we need a synoptic vision of the spatial impact of their different policies.”
The Lords took his evidence on board. In their recommendations they stated: “The built environment cuts across a number of central Government departments and our evidence has demonstrated that integration of policy is sadly lacking. We believe that the Cabinet Office should initially play a greater role in addressing policy co-ordination in this field, by reviewing areas of policy overlap between different departments and publishing definitive guidance on the division of responsibilities.”
Universities plug the gap
Professor Tewdwr Jones also discussed how universities can help to plug the gap left by the ongoing shortage of public sector skills.
He said: “Local authority planning departments are a shadow of their former selves these days; they have been hollowed out. The question then is: where does the intelligence and data come from to inform policy-making and to create some advantage for places to shape their own future?
“In Newcastle, the University has stepped into that vacuum to some extent by providing the expertise and the knowledge, but there is intelligence, there is mapping and there is data, and it is essential that the public consultation—the democratic element—is there as well.”
The Select Committee recommended: “National and local government should also take steps to increase the capacity of the planning sector as a whole, including through educational outreach programmes as well as partnerships with the private sector, Universities and neighbouring authorities.”
“This report makes an important contribution to the way we should think about and look at places in the forthcoming years. Government has chastised planners for their perceived inability to create job opportunities while cutting the resources available to local authorities. The recent flooding and ongoing lack of affordable homes are the result of a failure to look at the long term future of places. It is time ministers took notice of the need to protect places for what they are and to listen to communities’ views, and not treat them as nothing more than a building opportunity,” said Professor Tewdwr-Jones.
The House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment was established in June 2015 to examine planning and strategic issues. It is chaired by Baroness O’Cathain.
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