Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning for Housing in Rural England: Discursive Power and Spatial Exclusion

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning for Housing in Rural England: Discursive Power and Spatial Exclusion

Article excerpt

This article examines the discursive construction and application of concepts of sustainable communities in relation to planning for housing in rural England, highlighting the role of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and the (now abolished) regional planning bodies. The paper draws on Lukes' 'third dimension' of power (language use) and Bourdieu's concept of 'symbolic violence'. It suggests that an 'unholy alliance' of rural elites and urban interests have wielded discursive power to define 'sustainability' on their own terms, which exacerbates the unaffordability of rural housing, leading to social injustice and spatial exclusion.

There is a well-established undersupply of housing in the UK, which has been found by the economist Kate Barker to lead to high house prices and damage to the UK economy (Barker, 2004). The gap between supply and demand is often at its greatest in rural areas, resulting in a well-established affordability gap in such areas. The Government's Affordable Rural Housing Commission (ARHC) and Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) identified significantly higher 'affordability ratios' (the ratio between average incomes and average house prices) in rural areas than in urban areas (CRC, 2007b; 2008; ARHC, 2006). Bramley and Watkins (2009) have questioned this disparity, but the majority of researchers acknowledge an issue with housing supply in rural England, although most focus on affordable rather than market housing as the real problem area. This article presents evidence that in those rural areas the aim of increasing the supply of housing, whether market or affordable, is being frustrated, maintaining a pattern identified by Peter Hall and colleagues in 1973. The paper argues that the 'Containment of urban England' (Hall et al., 1973) has continued unabated since Hall's work.

Drawing on empirical research, the paper analyses discursive 'constructions' of sustainability in relation to rural communities and identifies a number of arenas in which those discourses are negotiated. The paper concludes that at every level of planning/housing policy, whether national, regional or local, there is a direct conflict between the operationalisation of discourses of sustainability and any attempt to increase the supply of housing in rural areas. The paper focuses on discourse because we believe that 'Our being in the world is inseparable from our perception of it' (Haugaard, 2002, p. 181).

The paper further suggests that anti-development interests in rural areas are using discursive power to render rural housebuilding inherently 'unsustainable' in the eyes of policy makers and wider society. The theories of Stephen Lukes and Pierre Bourdieu are used to explain how this power is exercised.

A theoretical framework

There are many theorists who seek to cast light on the exercise of power - to understand the mechanics by which the dominant can exercise their will. In terms of analysing the use of language to exercise power, Foucault is perhaps pre-eminent, but for our purposes in this article we draw particularly on the work of Stephen Lukes and Pierre Bourdieu. Foucault and Bourdieu have many affinities (see Harker et al., 1990, pp. 199-200), but also some crucial areas of disagreement, including most notably Bourdieu's adherence to class-based theory which makes his ideas more suitable for our analysis.

Lukes, in his 1974 book Power: A Radical View, identified power operating in three 'dimensions'. The one-dimensional view of power, according to Lukes, was based on decision-making, with those who prevail in decision-making identified as the powerful. The two-dimensional view of power was based on the process of decision-making itself, looking at how the less powerful are excluded from meaningful decision-making. The three-dimensional view of power sought to explore non-visible conflict. Lukes believed that power could be exercised to prevent people from having grievances 'by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things' (Lukes, 2005, p. …

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