British land-use planning seems to have displayed a remarkable resurgence of activity at the local level in the 1990s. While this must have surprised those who foretold the death of planning by the end of the 1980s, many observers and practitioners (for instance, Healey and Shaw 1993; Marshall 1994; Owens 1994; Brindley et al. 1996) have suggested that it is the grasping of the environment as an issue which has generated this activity, and rescued planning from the intellectual and professional doldrums of the 1980s.
This chapter will examine some of the arguments for this view, and explore the debates over the real extent and possible consequences of any material change in the scope of planning in the 1990s. Using the evidence of activity amongst local planning authorities, other regulatory agencies, and pressure groups with an interest in the planning process, it attempts to explain the wide variety of experience in terms of some of the contradictions inherent in reconciling the adoption of the potentially radical concept of environmental sustainability with the conservative corporatism of both central and local government in the UK.
Exploring the contradictions
These contradictions themselves reflect shifting positions in the broader political context within which planning is undertaken. Partly these derive from the uneasy relations between local government and central government in this period (discussed elsewhere in this volume), and partly from the uncertainty with which central government has grasped the environmental nettle—there is still a very real debate about whether the rush of new policy initiatives has been business-as-usual or a more radical departure. This