Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Hidden or Hiding?: Public Perceptions of Participation in the Planning System

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Hidden or Hiding?: Public Perceptions of Participation in the Planning System

Article excerpt

Despite the complexity of the subject of values, the basic argument here is straightforward: in answer to the leading question, 'why do we plan?', we must inevitably conclude that it is either to save or to enhance things we3 as a society care about-in a word, that we value. (Udy, 1996, ii; emphasis added)

In terms of constraining or permitting the development of land planning is as Udy (1996) suggests fundamentally an evaluative activity. Land use planning (referred to as planning hereafter) in the United Kingdom has at its core the aim of shaping and protecting environments that are valued in an expansive sense. Indeed the way the planning system influences the identification, or denial, of problems relating to land use and defines their relative importance as a function of values (Bernstein, 1989). But whose values and how do they come to 'count' in the planning process? This participation problem has been a long-standing preoccupation for the practice of planning in the UK and it is receiving increased attention into the new millennium.

In the UK statutory planning emerged in a period of post-war social consensus. The dominant perception was that the values of society could be safeguarded by the judgements of professional planners and democratically elected politicians. The ability of such mechanisms adequately to reflect the values of an increasingly diverse and complex society was soon questioned, however, by the view that in a democratic system people should be able to influence policies and know why they have been adopted. By the 1970s statutory opportunities for public participation had been recommended on both ideological and practical grounds and adopted in a format that still persists today (Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 1969).

Despite these channels for involvement, formal participation in the planning process is dominated by professional planners, politicians, statutory consultées and organised groups of special interests (DOE, 1995; Davies, 1998). Individual members of these representative groups are also 'members of the public' in some sense, but theirparticipation can be seen as only a limited fulfilment of the aims of such channels for 'public participation'. This is in no small part because they are explicitly representatives of specific communities of interest rather than communities of geographical location. A fuller or deeper sense of public participation would have to incorporate the heterogeneous publics who are not members of organised groups and whose interests may not be represented by those groups currently active in the planning system. Such non-organised publics still consistently form a large constituency of non-participants; a situation that the present Government seeks to resolve in its programme to modernise planning and local government (DETR, 1998a; 1998b; 1998c; 1998d).

Political attention to increasing public participation has been matched by academic interest in what Tewdwr-Jones and Allmendinger have termed 'a new hegemony in planning theory' (1998, 1975). Based on a foundation of Habermasian communicative rationality (Habermas, 1984), planning theorists including most notably Healey (1992; 1993; 1996; 1997) and Forester (1989; 1996; 1999) have proposed more deliberative mechanisms for planning to foster greater public participation with the explicit aim of producing a more consensual system of decision-making. Such a position is also adopted in the theoretical construction of contemporary society transformed through reflexive modernisation (Beck, Giddens and Lash, 1995).

However, despite the abundance of political and academic support for the idea of greater public participation in planning everyday experiences do not, as yet, suggest a revolution in practice. There are still significant gaps between theory and practice and between political rhetoric and what Flyvberg (1998) calls the 'realpolitik' or real rationality of planning processes. The aim of this paper is to uncover some of those mismatches by considering perceptions of participation in planning. …

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