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RTPI Policy and Research hosts academic symposium on governance

30 April 2015

During our centenary year the RTPI produced a huge volume of policy and research analysis. The Planning Horizons series in particular considered planning’s contribution to long term societal issues such as governance and spatial thinking. These documents have helped to embed the RTPI as a voice of authority in the academic and policy communities, and 2015 will see the policy and research team using the work done as a basis for further external engagement. This outward facing agenda was kicked off this week at UCL when the RTPI hosted a symposium on governance and planning.

In his opening remarks as chair Dr Mike Harris said:  "given our recent output on these topics, the RTPI welcomes the opportunity to facilitate further debates on governance, leadership, and the planning’s role in contributing to the challenges in the 21st century".

"given our recent output on these topics, the RTPI welcomes the opportunity to facilitate further debates on governance, leadership, and the planning’s role in contributing to the challenges in the 21st century"

The city and regional devolution agenda has received increasing attention over the past couple of years, alongside important policy announcements. But how much do we really know about the benefits of devolving power and resources, how can these benefits be realised, and what does the international evidence tell us? These were the topics discussed at the RTPI Governance Symposium which took place at UCL on Tuesday 28th April. The event involved a range of academics and policy experts who gave their perspective on devolved models of governance and took a critical perspective on devolution.

The symposium was begun by Professor Jacob Torfing of Roskilde University who discussed collaborative innovation in the public sector. He noted the rising pressure on the public sector at a time when there is a lack of resource, and argued that collaborative innovation has therefore become a key aspiration of public organisations in many western countries.

Professor Patsy Healey presented on Planning, Place Governance and the Challenges of Devolution. She argued that Innovation in planning in the UK is repressed by the institutional scaffolding, and that planners by their nature know now about how to think in collaboration, and embrace a range of perspectives.  Citing the RTPI Planning Horizons research projects, Healey maintained that the ‘planning project’ can deliver place based governance as an antidote to the overly centralised system of governance we currently operate in.

Professor Robin Hambleton discussed place-based leadership and social innovation. Referring to their key role in pushing environmental governance forward, Hambleton argued that cities are currently proving to be the most innovative level of governance.

Professor John Tomaney gave a critical review of decentralisation, pointing out that there’s a startling array of definitions of decentralisation which throws up a set of measurement problems. Tomaney concluded that these definitional and measurement issues make presenting a general picture of decentralisation really difficult, something that is not acknowledged in contemporary political debates.

After a morning of academic contributors, the policy panel considered what the presentations meant for policy makers.

Miguel Coelho (Institute for Government) argued that it is unhelpful to think about devolution in the abstract and not in relation to specific policies, and asked for concrete evidence that devolution can benefit the population. Andrew Carter (Centre for Cities) pointed out that current debates on devolution in academia don’t give sufficient acknowledgment to the highly politicised environment in which we operate, while Phillip Blond agreed with his other panel members and called for more synchronisation between academia and policy.

Following on from the symposium RTPI will be producing a pamphlet which will contain an article from each of the speakers as well as contributions from individuals with an interest in the area.

Podcasts of interviews with the four academic speakers can be found here.

Read the RTPI Planning Horizons paper on Governance here.