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Planning Horizons

Making Better Decisions for Places

Planning is an activity which involves making decisions on investments (in the broadest sense) today for the benefit of future generations, for example with regards to housing, places for work, places for rest and recreation, and so on. But the level at which these decisions are made, and the procedures by which decisions are arrived at, are often crucial to their effectiveness and efficiency.

This Planning Horizons project considers how governance structures in public and private spheres can seriously affect how effective planning is, and how 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.

The full paper and summary are now available from this project.

Barriers to effective governance

Policy-makers in the UK and internationally are increasingly recognising the need to devolve more power and responsibility to cities and communities. However, as discussed in this paper, 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.

Beyond fragmentation

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.

This paper contains numerous example 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 in the UK 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.

RTPI Symposium, Critical Perspectives on Devolved Governance

This event, which took place in UCL in April 2015, involved a range of academics and policy experts giving their perspective on devolved models of governance. Inspired by the RTPI's Planning Horizons series, the symposium took the critical perspective on devolution that has arguably been lacking in some recent public debates. The presentations were: