Slipping Further Behind the Curve

Confirmation can come from unexpected places.

In February 2021, the UK National Commission for UNESCO and PRAXIS at the University of Leeds hosted a convention on “Biocultural Heritage and Landscapes: Linking Nature and Culture”. Participants came from over 30 countries.

Don’t be put off by the title and the global context. The Brief Report that emerged from this convention has direct relevance to present and future planning policy in England and the wider UK.

Among its “key insights” is the recognition that “the knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities can and do contribute significantly to, for example, ensuring food security, nurturing biodiversity, maintaining the integrity of ecosystems, and cutting CO2 emissions”.

Consequently, the knowledge and expertise of local communities provide “alternative paradigms for sustainable development”.

The Report goes on to recommend that we “foster participation, local leadership and advocacy”, and that local communities, including farmers and fishermen, are given a central role in the decision-making process, which requires the adoption of “inclusive governance models”.

So why is the planning system in England going in the opposite direction?

By introducing large-scale – and largely arbitrary – zoning, and reinforcing top-down housing targets on local authorities, current proposals distance local communities from the decision-making process.

By compressing public participation into a much shorter timescale and massively reducing the time available to consider and respond to a “single statutory sustainable development test”, the proposals would mean that local views, knowledge and expertise would struggle to be heard until it’s too late.

The consultation period would have passed before most people had realised what was going on or had had time to study the zoning proposals and their implications and offer a better way forward.

Likewise, the Ox-Cam Arc, imposed by an unelected metrocentric clique and eagerly championed by large land owners and developers, continues to ride roughshod over local concerns. So, yes, the UNESCO Report does indeed confirm what many have suspected: in England at least, planning policy is slipping even further behind best planning practice.

Nigel Pearce