24 Jul 2017
Over the weekend there has been much written and spoken about Ruth Davidson's article on the new blog platform UnHerd. And quite right too - it's interesting and well worth a read, as it presents a view on planning as part of a wider commentary about leadership and the need to reform capitalism.
For those who may not know or remember, Ms Davidson was the one shining light in an otherwise rather poor Conservative Party election campaign. She is the Scottish Conservative Leader and the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Central. UnHerd was launched over the weekend, it being described by the Spectator as a centre-right blog and the brainchild of Tim Montgomerie, the founder the conservative home website.
So what has this rising political star and this new blogging site got to offer, that's caused such a stir?
Ms Davidson's blog is entitled 'Ctrl + Alt + Del. Conservatives must reboot capitalism' and was posted on 22nd July. Her opening gambit is that the world is a richer, healthier, better educated and more equal place because of the developing world's growth and the achievements of capitalism. In order to demonstrate the point she states:
In 1981 42% of the world's population was extremely poor.....By 2013 that proportion had dropped to 10.7%
That seems like good progress indeed.
But her blog then questions how if capitalism has achieved such success why are people, and in particular younger people, losing faith in its ability to make their lives better? And Ms Davidson points to the rise of the populist right and left, in the form of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, as a direct response to this.
Then comes some hard-hitting stuff when Ms Davidson seeks to present a teenager's perspective of an unequal world. She questions, "Is the route for social advancement a degree, student debt, moving to London to spend more than half their take home pay on a shared flat in Zone 6 and half of what's left commuting to their stagnant-wage job every day every day; knowing there is precisely zero chance of saving enough to ever own their own front door?"
Ms Davidson is adept at picking up the mood of the moment - in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn has done recently - and she makes the contrast between the haves and have-nots even starker by referring to some footballers being bought and sold for more than the entire economy of a third world nation!
But what of the future and where does planning fit within Ms Davidson's view of the world?
She says that boldness of the kind we don't often see from government will be required. That seems highly unlikely from a weakened government focussing most of its efforts and resources on Brexit, but maybe she is writing about the future more generally and over the longer term.
Her blog stresses the need for true leadership to deal with restrictive practices alongside enabling and facilitating investment in genuine productive activities. She refers to investment in technical education doing much more for long term wage growth than putting workers on boards and in order to demonstrate where she thinks the priority for action should lie.
On planning it is interesting to note that this forms a central part of Ms Davidson's thesis, reflecting just how acute the housing crisis has become. After taking a swipe at how planning law privileges those who already have a property, she sets a positive agenda for change. She proposes policies of 'help to build' rather than 'help to buy' and seeking to make increasing housing supply a 'thing of beauty' to build local support for extra construction. There is not really that much new here that hasn't been said by others before, but the underlying tenor of the article is about emphasising the need for bold and positive action.
This is all against the background of Ms Davidson calling for the short term, election cycle nimbyism of prohibitive planning laws needing to stop and the government needing to lead, rather than merely facilitate discussions about where next for Britain.
There is a certain freedom about her writing that is refreshing - but it is also seemingly somewhat naive. Calling for prohibitive planning laws to be lifted, for example, will very quickly lead to questions being asked about the Green Belt; and then discussion is then likely as always to be short-lived, as politicians fear that any hint of relaxation of Green Belt policy will be tantamount to political suicide.
But it might not be naivety on the part of Ms Davidson; maybe she is representing the views of the millennial generation and maybe rising political stars, like her, will be bolder in tackling the more difficult issues facing this generation head-on. Jeremy Corbyn's rise in popularity is clearly fuelled by the younger generation and although Ms Davidson's and his politics are different the issues they are both talking about - and the way they are talking about them with such with deep-rooted belief - are really very similar.
I don't think any major changes, along the lines that Ms Davidson's proposes, will occur any time soon. However the more time and effort that is swallowed up by the Brexit negotiations the louder the voices of the younger generation will probably become. And it's clear that housing and planning will be central to any call for action, whether that's inspired by the politics of the likes of Ruth Davidson or Jeremy Corbyn or any others that follow their lead.
Image credit: UnHerd.com
In recent years ‘mansplaining’ has become an increasingly common part of the contemporary vocabulary, describing a situation where a man explains something to someone (often a woman) in a condescending or patronising manner, despite the explainee knowing more on the issue than the explainer. To avoid setting myself up for a fall by writing a blog on this issue I am going to focus on a new strain of this phenomenon– ‘plansplaining’.
‘Plansplaining’ is a term I came across through an article on the City Views website about how planners in the USA have a tendency to talk down to local residents when discussing new development proposals, despite the residents knowing their local area better than the planner does.
This struck a chord after years of attending public consultation events being told “you don’t know what the traffic/ecology/flooding is like here” and, particularly working in the north east without having a Geordie accent, “you’re not from round here so you don’t understand.”
Planners are often guilty of ‘plansplaining’ when discussing development proposals with local communities which can frustrate local residents – with so-called experts telling them that their views on the local area are either incorrect, irrelevant or worst of all ‘not a material planning consideration’.
A residents’ concern over the impact of development in the neighbouring field will not be eased by assuring them that the site is ‘green’ in the most recent SHLAA, the land is an emerging allocation in the draft Local Plan and that the Council cannot demonstrate a robust five year housing land supply.
The most effective means of avoiding ‘plansplaining’ is through the language used when discussing developments with the public. This needs to tread a fine line to ensure that it is not patronising whilst ensuring that the relevant information gets across. By the time a proposal reaches the public consultation stage it is highly likely that a great deal of thought and technical assessment has been undertaken to inform decisions – this needs to be conveyed to residents in the most effective and easily digestible way possible. Planners and the development industry are often guilty of providing too much information through reams of detailed technical information and text at public events.
Our profession has a tendency to talk in acronyms and abbreviations which a non-planner would struggle to decipher – a critical part of effective public consultation is avoiding this industry jargon. Consultation and engagement with local communities plays an ever increasing role in the planning system and the preparation of planning applications, with social media now an accessible tool for the mobilisation of local interest groups.
We need to be better at explaining why there is a demand for development in an area despite existing homes being for sale or shops being vacant. There needs to be a clear understanding of the negative impacts the development is likely to have whilst also being able to explain the benefits of the proposals to the local community.
It’s important to accept that developments will receive objections – the purpose of public consultation and engagement is not to try and persuade all local residents to support the proposals. The real purpose is to ensure that locals understand the full scope of the development and the scale of benefits which can be delivered through the scheme. A successful public consultation strategy will reduce the number of objections to a development and it will ensure that any remaining objections are based on a full understanding of the proposals rather than assumptions and suppositions.