Neighbourhood Planning and the Failure of Spontaneous Order #NPPF

Today Planning Aid and the RTPI launched a website designed to act as a forum and means of interchange between forerunners and other groups.

The golden rule of launching websites is dont launch them before you have content.  This has nothing not available on the DCLG website.

It lacks on the step by step introduction to neighbourhood planning – as in the DCLG funded CPRE guide, and the latest news sections lacks the key latest news – Dawlish, and the lessons from that.

Part of the whole ideology of Neighbourhood Planning is that it will spontaneously fill the gap in planning and housing numbers caused by the planned revocation of regional plans and so many local planning authorities revising their housing numbers down as a result.  Greg Clark et. al. have given endless speeches to this effect.

It is polyannaish nonsense with no evidence to back it – quite the opposite.  It is driven as in so many areas of policy formulation by neo-liberal ideology rather than evidence.  Notably in this case Hayeck’s theory of ‘spontaneous order’.  This concept has a grain of truth – that centralised state interventions can be inefficient – as long ago stated by thinkers of the libertarian left such as Proudhon.  But this alternative strand avoids two key errors made by neoliberal ideologies.

Adam Ferguson described the phenomenon of spontaneous order in society as the “result of human action, but not the execution of any human design”.  But Neighbourhood Planning is a result of cooperation and collective design not individual human action.  So the the whole sociological basis of the Neoliberal approach to planning is undermined.  ‘Planning’ is attacked as a bad thing for not being spontaneous, but local/neighbourhood planning is far from spontaneous.  It requires structured information, evidence and lack of uncertainty so as not to require bureaucratic intervention.  It is this lack of certainty which pervades neighbourhood planning.  Again the ideology is they will work it out, but without information and process we get chaos not certainty and a failure to move forward together at speed.  Information and the levers of power are pulled by those with wealth and influence to which small local groups will always be at a disadvantage unless the public sector explicitly provides the information, expertise and process needed.  If this is not funded it will not move forward.  As Neoliberal ideology says it cannot be funded as the priority is to protect rentier income of the few and cut public spending quite simply neighbourhood planning will stall as local planning authoritiy budgets are squeezed to zero as the Graph of Doom advances.

The only way to reconcile neoliberal ideology with neighbourhood planning is to assume a position of minimising harm.  The idea that states do harm because they are big and powerful so minimise this through undertaking planning at the lowest level possible.  Of course this minimise harm position will also minimise gain by marginalising neighbourhood planning to shaping the small, scattered and non strategic.

The success of Neighbourhood Planning is therefore incompatible with Neoliberal Ideology and can only be made successful by abandoning these assumptions in the shaping of policy and support provided to it.

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