Simplified Planning Zones (SPZs) are one of the ‘great unknowns’ of the New Right. References to them in planning texts fall into one of two distinct categories: perfunctory descriptions that pay lip service to their (rare) existence (e.g. Rydin 1993; Cullingworth and Nadin 1994) or alarmist visions that conjure up an ideologically driven attack upon planning (Thornley 1993). This neatly sums up the confusion surrounding SPZs and planning as a whole during the 1980s and 1990s. It is too much to characterise them as a symbol of an era (after all, there are only half a dozen or so in existence) but neither should they be dismissed as a failure. In reality, SPZs mark the high and low points of the Thatcherite approach to planning—high in terms of their wide deregulatory intentions, low in terms of their lack of practical effect and use. Ideologically and in the purest form they represented a clear departure from the whole post-war approach that would have revolutionised planning; they combined plan and permission, effectively removing the discretion at the heart of the UK system. However, by the time the first zone was adopted in Derby in 1988 they resembled little more than glorified development briefs. And for an initiative that could have feasibly covered just about any area of the country (excluding some environmentally sensitive areas after successful lobbying by shire Conservative MPs) only a dozen or so were ever attempted. Mrs Thatcher was famed for her strident and often hectoring approach summed up in the acronym TINA: ‘There Is No Alternative’. How did a distinctly Thatcherite approach to planning become so utterly altered? As the approach to this book suggests, the answer lies in a combination of central approach and local use of SPZs.
The origin and evolution of Simplified Planning Zones
Unlike Enterprise Zones, Simplified Planning Zones have not benefited from much academic interest or research. Most of the work has been