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The RTPI calls for new approach to making decisions for places

11 November 2014

Policy-makers need to adopt a new approach to decision-making in order to respond to major challenges such as housing, transport and economic growth, according to a new report published by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) today. The report can be found here.

Decision-makers at all levels need to be brought together to enable the best decisions for places, to ensure that communities are provided with the services and opportunities they need

The report, ‘Making Better Decisions for Places’, considers the major challenges facing the UK, from providing housing to better transport infrastructure, securing economic growth and preparing for climate change, and argues that a lack of joined-up and coordinated decision-making is hampering efforts to respond effectively to these issues.

Cath Ranson, President of the RTPI, said:

“Understanding what we want to create for local places requires  a whole range of actors in the public, private and third sectors to work together – in particular communities need to be closely involved in decision-making. The challenges of making sustainable, better places won’t be resolved by one organisation alone, or indeed by one profession. Decision-makers at all levels need to be brought together to enable the best decisions for places, to ensure that communities are provided with the services and opportunities they need.”

Policy-makers are increasingly recognising the need to devolve more power and responsibility to cities and communities, for example the Government’s recent agreement with Manchester to give greater local control over certain budgets and powers to the combined authority and mayor.


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However, as outlined in the RTPI’s report, to ensure that it results in better decision-making for places, such devolution needs to ensure that it overcomes four common failures:

  • Governance blindness – a lack of reflection on the appropriate level of decision-making to deal with issues that cross regional and national boundaries;
  • Siloed policy and decision-making, for example, houses being built with no adequate infrastructure like transport and health care services;
  • Governing by traditional borders rather than using functional geographies;
  • A lack of understanding of ‘subsidiarity’ – having the right decisions being made at the right levels and how these levels link together – and the importance of having well-resourced institutions.

To overcome these failures, the report sets out four ‘tests’ for successful devolution:

  • Identifying decisions with a primarily national impact and those with a primarily sub-national impact, and reflecting this in governance arrangements;
  • Allowing policy decisions to be made according to where policies interact (for example, cities, city-regions, or local communities), to better respond to challenges such as housing, transport and flooding;
  • Aligning governance arrangements with real functional economic areas rather than traditional administrative borders and boundaries;
  • Ensuring that institutions at local, regional, city, national and international level are suitably equipped and resourced to make and implement decisions.

The RTPI report contains numerous examples of decisions made at inappropriate levels, but also case studies from around the world of countries where better governance arrangements are in place. For example, the report contrasts Leeds with the City of Malmö, Sweden. 

Malmö has developed a shared strategy for a climate-friendly transport system which unites universities, companies and authorities across the border with Denmark, creating a hub that supports people across Scandinavia. This example reflects cross-border, joined up policy-making, enabling planners to produce better outcomes for these places.

‘Making Better Decisions for Places’ is part of a series of reports, published by the RTPI in its centenary year, which have addressed major economic, social and environmental challenges facing society in the twenty-first century, and how planning can play an important role in responding to these issues.

The report can be found here on the RTPI website.

The first paper in the series, Thinking Spatially, was published on 4 June and can be downloaded here. The second paper in the series, Future-Proofing Society, was published on 24 June and can be downloaded here. The third paper, Promoting Healthy Cities  was published on 7 October and can found here.