Town Planning and Irresolvable Clashes of Power
The recent and vitriolic clash between the orthodox Jewish community and the Polenta People over the establishment of a ‘Stamford Hill’ Neighbourhood Forum – with the intent of relaxing control over extensions to serve large families is a useful corrective to the idea that planning, even at a neighbourhood level, can ever be a consensus based objective exercise more akin to 19th century social work than the reality that the best training for planning is more likely a degree in war studies and conflict resolution.
Planning policy is predominantly about the exercise of power by those that manage to seize it to further their own interests and those of the groups and sectional interests they see as their principal constituency It is naive to pretend otherwise. Planning as a profession can recommend solutions that maximise benefits of development to the most people but there will always be those that don’t care a fig about this but wish simply to prevent or promote development that the exercise of power enables them to do. Planners can sometimes propose clever solutions that help resolve conflicts but many planning issues, such as the Stamford Hill extensions issue, are essentially irresolvable and it is simply a matter of which group at any one time imposes their view.
Hence any attempt to niavly decontaminate planning from conflict will fail. Countless attempts at reform have foundered because of this naiavity. Planning can minimise unnecessary conflict and defer, deflect and displace it, but forever that substratum of conflict remains, always ready to erupt like a volcano and see planners swallowed under the pyroclastic flow of controversy