The impact of place identity in neighbourhood plans

My latest paper to be published in Planning Theory and Practice discusses how neighbourhood plans represent a sense of place and how a convincing narrative of place impacts on policies for  housing development. It argues that neighbourhood plans invoke the subjectivities of distinctive environments and establish norms of social relations that help determine the acceptability of planning applications.The selection of specific sites for housing, the specification of the size of the development, and policies regulating the mode of delivery, its affordability and relation to local need are evaluated and rationalised in reference to a locally constructed frame of community identity.

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The new normal: is a planning orthodoxy being imposed on neighbourhood plans ?

Does it matter that three neighbourhood plans failed examination last year? With over 2000 neighbourhood plans underway and 240 now passed referendum, are these failures to be expected as the number of plans increases? Or is it, more worryingly, the case that the weight of planning orthodoxy is now being imposed on the voluntary plans of citizens, perhaps driven by the illimitable appetite of developers for legal action against neighbourhood plans? Continue reading

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The impact of neighbourhood planning on house-building

Neighbourhood planning has created opportunities for communities to advance new socially and environmentally sustainable housing solutions that conflict with the interests of corporate house-builders and unsettle the depiction of citizens’ groups as protectionist and opposed to all economic growth.

DSCF1953The emergence of neighbourhood planning in England after 2011 was unusual both in its devolution of statutory planning policy to community organisations and in its explicit intention to reshape the protectionist opposition of citizens into enthusiastic support for housing development.  It was anticipated that giving communities the right to devise neighbourhood development plans would secure their compliance with a pro-growth agenda and increase the number of sites allocated for housing. Neighbourhood planning was an experimental policy at the seismic juncture between localism and the liberalisation of housing growth. Making this policy work meant giving local people real influence over the scale and shape of development and at the same time enabling the volume house-building corporations that dominate the industry in England to access land and gain planning approval more easily.

A new paper to be published in Housing Theory and Society later this year, written by me and my colleague William Sparling, explores the conflict that emerged between neighbourhoods and the volume house-builders and analyses government responses. It then identifies the distinctive spatial practices that are emerging in neighbourhood plans with regard to housing delivery and evaluates the impact of neighbourhood planning on the dominant market model of house-building. The paper concludes with an assessment of the contribution of neighbourhood planning to housing delivery and its significance in understanding the tensions inherent in the state strategy of localism. Download the full article free: Neighbourhood planning and house-building_final

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The Housing Crisis Weaponised

The government does not intend to solve our housing crisis. Instead it aims to use the housing crisis as a weapon of policy against the beliefs and attitudes that sustain a welfare state.

Much of the attack on the welfare state has been about constructing a new common sense view in which the private market is the only really fair system of distributing goods and rewards. It is seen as unfair when people don’t pay their way – meaning when they don’t pay market prices they seem to get something for nothing.

This common sense says that housing benefit is unfair, we are told, because it allows some people to live in expensive neighbourhoods without paying for it. The message is that if you can’t afford to live in nice places, you shouldn’t live there – it’s as simple as that.  As a result housing benefit has been cut back and capped, and the fairness of the housing market has been reasserted, with house prices fairly keeping the nicest and most expensive areas – and those parts of the country where homes are most in demand – out of the reach of anyone who is not already very well-off.

The Housing and Planning Bill makes that message of fairness even more explicit. Continue reading

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A Passion for Place

Planning scholarship tends to shy away from the emotional realm and planners in practice assert their distance from attachment. The policy of neighbourhood planning in England is unusual in that it addresses people’s emotional commitment to place, or their place attachment.


Human geographers would argue that the relationship with place is largely unconscious and is felt in the bones. Place is not a backdrop or a setting from which we stand distinct; instead emplacement, like embodiment, is a condition of being. Although individuals are confronted with a reality of place ‘out there’, which they may invest in meaning for themselves, places are already imbued with meanings that govern expected behaviour and social interaction. We talk about people being put in their place. Place is tied up with power relations and behavioural norms. Continue reading

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The New Patchwork Politics of Place

Building Sustainable Futures-

Building Sustainable Futures

In a new book ‘Building Sustainable Futures‘ edited by Dastbaz and Strange and published by Springer 2015 I contribute a chapter on neighbourhood planning and sustainable communities.

The concept of sustainable communities has come to define a particular type of governance in which responsibility for ameliorating the impact of economic growth is devolved to place-based voluntary and community associations. The community provides a model of sustainability in which the economics of collective consumption and the politics of community action can be engaged in the planning and stewardship of local development. The strategies of sustainable communities that result combine the market zeal of spatial liberalism with themes of redistributive justice and equality.  In the concept of community they find both a model of resilience and self-reliance and conversely a dynamic of mutual aid and co-operation.

My chapter identifies these competing strands in government strategies for sustainable communities in England and particularly the programme of neighbourhood planning introduced from 2011.  Together with my co-author, David Haigh, I argue that through neighbourhood planning responsibility for achieving environmental and social sustainability was largely abandoned by the state and relegated to the domestic networks of the community.  We explore the definition of sustainability that emerged from communities and their neighbourhood plans, one in which the priorities of environmental quality and the welfare needs of social reproduction were pursued through a Hobson’s choice of economic growth or self-reliance. In attempts by neighbourhood planning groups to establish innovative strategies of participation and community management we evidence the continuance of claims of redistribution and spatial equality in the concept of sustainability and in this unequal geography of community initiatives, we chart the development of a new patchwork politics of place. Building Sustainable Futures chapter_Final

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Neighbourhood plans against developers

The policy intention of neighbourhood planning in England was to overcome community opposition to house-building. It was anticipated that neighbourhood plans would increase the number of sites allocated for housing by giving communities more influence over the shape of development in exchange for their compliance with a pro-growth agenda. By the end of 2015, with over 100 neighbourhood plans in place and a further 1700 underway, the government announced the success of the policy in increasing housing allocations by more than 10 per cent. Continue reading

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Planning workshop helps Leeds neighbourhoods shape their future

Around 40 people from neighbourhood planning groups across Leeds took part in an innovative knowledge exchange workshop organised by Leeds Beckett University’s Planning Network on 7 November.

20 Neighbourhood Planning groups attend workshop

20 Neighbourhood Planning groups attend workshop

The workshop was organised by Leeds Planning Network, a new research cluster set up by the School of the Built Environment and Engineering supported by the Centre for Knowledge Exchange.

Quintin Bradley, Senior Lecturer in Planning at Leeds Beckett University, said: “This workshop is the first in a series of events in which we aim to help local people in Leeds get a real say in the future of their neighbourhoods.” Continue reading

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The new tenants’ movement

Ocropped-rent-stike-film-still-red-skirts-on-clydeside-1984-by-woodly-and-bellamy1ne hundred years since the famous Glasgow Rent Strike of 1915 and we’re still battling the same housing crisis.
One hundred years ago the Glasgow rent strikers won the right to rent regulation and council housing. In the last thirty years we’ve lost those rights. Rent regulation was abolished by the Thatcher government and council housing was decimated by the Right to Buy and is now to be sold off to pay for another right to buy for housing associations.

Today, like then, we see a growing swell of housing protests.  An alliance forged by the austerities of insecure housing, benefit cuts and rocketing housing costs is uniting social housing tenants, private tenants, and homeless people in resistance to eviction, the squatting of empty housing and direct action against property speculators.

img_20150919_135237359Inspiring groups like Focus E15 have crossed the boundaries of tenure between social housing and the private rented sector to campaign for security and affordability for all tenants. Campaign groups like Housing Action for Southwark and Lambeth help resist evictions and advocate on behalf of homeless people seeking council re-housing.

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Pawns in their game? Neighbourhood plans win more powers

Neighbourhood plans in England are creating new lines of political conflict in the relationship between central and local government.

The new Housing and Planning Bill (2015) grants neighbourhood planning areas a right of appeal to the secretary of state in cases of disagreement with the local authority. In addition urban neighbourhoods that have a designated forum will get the right to be consulted over planning applications.

These new powers bear witness to the antagonism that has developed between many neighbourhood planning groups and their local planning authority. The legislation is also evidence of government intention to establish the neighbourhood as a new political identity that can be used to circumvent or circumscribe the power of local councils. The neighbourhood is emerging as the potential ally or pawn of central government in its fractious relationship with local authorities. Continue reading

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