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Big society, small locality: From sweet dreams to hard reality
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government has introduced major changes to the UK, intended to reduce dramatically the roles of the public sector in managing urban and rural development and community services. ‘Big Society’ and ‘Localism’ are intended to transform the previous planning system, giving residents of local neighbourhoods the powers to determine the future character and development of their own neighbourhoods and community services, reducing the roles of city-wide planning authorities and scrapping regional authorities. But these ideas raise fundamental questions: Can a neighbourhood be planned separately from its external world, and can residents make sensible plans separately from Business Initiative Districts? Would ‘NIMBY’ pressures undermine wider housing needs? And would participants in public consultations represent the full interests of all those affected by the plan? In this paper, the author suggests that for ‘Localism’ to succeed, a fundamental rethink about the nature of planning has to take root before all the details are formulated: human settlements are continuously evolving through decisions and actions of people who respond to changes made by other people or by nature. The outcomes are beneficial to some people and may be detrimental to others. The purpose of ‘planning’ is generally agreed — to reduce the adverse impacts of change and maximise the beneficial impacts. It involves intervention in a complex system of causes and effects, interrelating several social, economic, environmental and other spheres of life. Planning can only succeed if it is based on a thorough understanding of the dynamic processes of change, who is involved and their motives and constraints, and if it prepares integrated plans with those involved. But in fact much of urban change is governed by compartmentalised thinking and action.
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