When We Plan Again Lets have Planning That Works

The title of this post is a deliberate nod to the book ‘When We Build Again, Lets Have Housing That Works’ by Colin Ward.

Planning goes on from staff homes, but lets be clear nothing will ever be the same again.  The biggest shock to the global system since the second world war should similarly see a rebuilding of basic structures and institutions – such as planning.

No one knows the long term impact on the economy and factors such as household formation.  There is plenty of evidence from history that there will be a dramatic boost to economic growth in the recovery period from a supply shock and that housing and planning must have the the flexibility to rapidly upscale.  The exact forecasts don’t matter – the same people are around requiring the same homes.  In the aftermath to the second world war the debate was not around whether we needed x or y million homes but how many homes we could build per month.

What kind of England do we want to plan for?  What is the Post-Corona planning settlement?  We have no Abercrombie plan but the parameters we need to follow should be clear.  The priorities should be clear, rebalencing England, realising the potential of northern cities, realizing the potential of high tech clusters, rethinking town centres, providing city region zero carbon transport networks, meeting international pollution obligations,  reclaiming the biodiversity desert our countryside has become with landscape scale initiatives, linking the infrastructure we need in the National Infrastructure strategy to housing growth, dealing with the overspill of housing need from major cities.  This is what the planning white paper should be about.  All the procedural stuff should be in a dull technical appendix. What matters is a planning for our time.  If the white paper doesn’t even consider these our responsive should simply be taking a photo of the waste paper basket it is consigned to and telling the department – sorry try again – don’t you know we live in different times.

On our streets streets that have not met pollution targets for 20 years are now clean.  The goats and boars come down from the mountains now its is safe.  Similar to the rethinking of priorities in the Netherlands in wake of the oil crisis of 1973 the shock to the system will cause us to look to post oil times.  These are clean, low carbon and healthy times.  Why should we ever go back to the old ways.  Just close roads to keep it that way until we can develop the vehicles to run on them that meet targets.  We have proven we can reduce emissions and pollution by people working from home.   It is not a given that we have to go back to the old car dependent planet destroying hard to breathe ways.  Lets just imagine what planning would be like to maintain an overnight transition, rather than inch our way to failure over 30 years.   Reality is a giant thought experiment, showing it can be done.

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