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How far do planning systems support the priorities of national governments?

10 March 2017 Author: Stephen Wilkinson

England Map

How far planning systems support the priorities of national governments is a moot point. Logic would seem to dictate that this is a no brainer and there should be a clear relationship between the two, with the planning system being able to articulate spatially the priorities of governments.

Having recently returned from the excellent MUT conference in Budapest it is clear that Hungary’s planners are grappling with the role and purpose of their planning system.

The country has significant challenges. First amongst these is the decline in population - a process which started over thirty years ago and will continue with a projected decline of a further 16 per cent between 2014 and 2050. Second, within this there is a shift of population within the country to Budapest, leading to an ageing population in rural areas. Third, the country has few natural resources capable of exploitation by industry.

The previous Communist government operated a traditional ‘land use’ planning system with clear and effective controls over the use and development of land. There was simplicity here given the limited number of stakeholders involved in the development process. When the Breshnev doctrine was lifted and the Berlin wall came down in 1989 this system remained in place despite the emergence of a commercial land market.

With accession to the European Union in 2004 another system emerged: a system of development plans linked to securing development funds from the EU. It appears that this has led to partial fragmentation of the system as provincial cities compete for new investment in infrastructure.

The two systems don’t link together and it would seem that there is a breakdown in delivery.

Much of the afternoon session at the conference involved a review of the effectiveness of Hungary’s planning system, how this situation has arisen and how it can be effectively addressed.

It is now time for planners from across the UK and especially in England to become fully involved in the debate on the sort of planning system we want as the process begins, which will ultimately lead to a redefinition of our place in a new world order.

Given the significance of the scale of change which has occurred in the country during almost thirty years it is unsurprising that there is genuine concern over the effectiveness of the Hungarian system to deliver. But what the debate underpins is a wider concern for the future direction of the country and a definition of its place in Europe: what does the national government wish to achieve, the degree to which it should hold with the shibboleths of the past or embrace the new, and what is the best planning system to enable delivery of these aims.

In contrast the United Kingdom and in particular England has the reverse of the challenges faced by the Hungarians. We are experiencing considerable growth with a population projected to rise to 90 million in 2070 and within this London’s population will grow to around 11 million.

The Brexit vote was an opportunity for national debate on the position of the UK not just within Europe but in the world. Unlike Hungary we are set to leave the EU following the Brexit vote in June last year.

Following last month’s Parliamentary debate on the Brexit vote the UK government now has the green light to set down its timetable and from this month to start the negotiations with our European partners. It is now time for planners from across the UK and especially in England to become fully involved in the debate on the sort of planning system we want as the process begins, which will ultimately lead to a redefinition of our place in a new world order. We want to get this right from the start and ensure that national priorities can be delivered effectively through the planning system.

Stephen Wilkinson

Stephen Wilkinson

Stephen Wilkinson MRTPI is President of the RTPI for 2017. Stephen is a Chartered town planner with considerable experience in planning and regeneration. He has worked for four London Boroughs and for the Audit Commission where he advised planning authorities on their management arrangements. He currently works for the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and sits on several regeneration boards.