thoughts on our urban future

A new (spatial) policy for England?

An urban spatial framework concept from Ebenezer Howard

How does a country create a national framework for planning, and what should it include? This is what I was asked with fellow colleagues at the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) this past week. The national government is focusing on a complete redevelopment of the English planning system. At its heart is localism, or a more community-driven planning process where residents in their neighbourhoods (local parishes – or their equivalent) will create the plans they see fit for their local area. As of now, it is only residents, rather than businesses and other groups, who will lead this process.

Nonetheless, there still needs to be direction from the top. Today we have Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) and Planning Policy Statements (PPS), but there is no national framework, as there is in Scotland and Wales. Obviously key issues such as housing, greenbelts and the historic environment are currently covered, but what form of policy is expected at the national level, and what should it cover?

With more questions than answers, I do believe it needs to have a specific view on where England, development-wise, plans to be over the next 10, 20 and 50 years. Are cities viewed as the economic engines and key areas of growth? If so how do they grow (maybe not in footprint but through densification and smarter use of existing land)? I do believe we need to focus on metropolitan areas and plan how they work better. We also need to plan how they interact with one another, and how they compete and compliment one another.

There is also a need to focus on our cherished green spaces. What is the greenbelt (presumably it will be retained)? Currently it is a green buffer space, intended to maintain compact towns and cities as well as maintain our shared traditional values tied to the countryside. In the future the role of the greenbelt needs to expand. Let’s retain the rural characteristics across England, but also let’s redefine what uses can occur in our green spaces. It should promote biodiversity, help ensure food security, enable green energy protection, allow for new forms of living-off-the-land (within appropriate forms of green development with appropriate levels of density), amongst others. Let’s collectively redefine our future greenbelt.

Similarly let’s do the same for our national parks and coastline. We have the opportunity to plan for future England, and ensure our economic future is tied to the urban and rural future. This opportunity comes about once in a generation, so let our dreams inform what is possible. Let’s hear some of your ideas!

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