Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Conceptualising Spatial Planning Outcomes: Towards an Integrative Measurement Framework

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Conceptualising Spatial Planning Outcomes: Towards an Integrative Measurement Framework

Article excerpt

The breadth of the desired planning objectives, the lack of precision surrounding their definition and the complex institutional environment make it a rather difficult task to ascertain the outcomes of spatial planning. This article aims to deal with some of the long-standing challenges of disentangling the conceptual and methodological issues associated with the measurement of spatial planning outcomes and performance in the context of the new spatial planning system in England. It will then put forward a strategic integrative framework for assessing spatial planning outcomes that emphasises the importance of vertical and horizontal integration of policy monitoring within a spatial analytical framework; the flexibility of combining different types of indicators across different themes to develop policy intelligence; and the need for a collaborative approach among key stakeholders in the use of indicators to provide feedback and to reframe their policy vision, objectives and strategies.

Planning, like most other social reform movements over the last two centuries, has based its claim to political legitimacy upon possession of a special kind of knowledge - scientific knowledge - which can drastically transform the quality of public discourse. (Weaver et al., 1985, 145)

The comments made by Weaver et al. two decades ago are still applicable to our understanding of current policy thinking across international territories (Sawicki, 2002; Swain and Hollar, 2003; van Gestel and Faludi, 2005; Wong, 2006). We are still grappling with the know-how of delivering a knowledge-driven and evidencebased approach to inform spatial planning strategies. This article aims to deal with the challenge of disentangling the conceptual and methodological issues associated with the measurement of spatial planning outcomes in the context of the new spatial planning system in England.

Like many other European territories, after the wholesale spatial planning reform in autumn 2004, planning in Britain has shifted away from the rather narrower practice of land-use planning to a more strategic approach of coordinating, mediating and integrating the spatial dimension of wider policy streams (ODPM, 2005a; Wong, 2002a). Planning is now more than ever responsible for place making and has been charged with supporting 'sustainable development' and shaping the 'liveability' of places (ODPM, 2006; HM Government, 2006, 2007).

Framing planning objectives in holistic terms such as 'sustainable development', of course, creates some significant challenges. The vagueness and holism of the desired outcomes of spatial planning means that there are important inter-relations and inevitable tensions between the demand for environmental protection, economic development and social equity in both general and sector-specific terms (Campbell, 1996). Furthermore, the delivery of spatial planning and the attainment of the broad placemaking objectives are reliant upon the actions of a plurality of actors and agencies operating across different and often quite independent policy sectors. This horizontal axis of interaction is then intersected by the vertical complexity of activities undertaken across different tiers of government. Thus the delivery of spatial planning objectives is not only highly dependent upon the coordinating role of central government, but also local discretion over the interpretation of national policy guidance and the resources and actions of market actors and other stakeholders.

The breadth of the desired outcomes, the lack of precision surrounding their definition and the complex institutional environment make it a rather difficult task to ascertain the outcomes of planning. This has helped to fuel highly politicised debate about the performance of the planning system. In spite of the use of 'Best Value' indicators and other performance measures in Britain, existing monitoring frameworks provide little reliable evidence on what the planning system has or has not achieved. …

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