The future of planning: a moment’s insight is worth a lifetime of experience
by Barry Knight
On ‘Blue Monday’ in mid-January 2020, TCPA policy director Hugh Ellis was considering the future of planning and experienced a meltdown while on a train journey. He realised that his 30-year career working in the charity sector on housing, planning and climate change had been wasted. He says:
‘For the first 20 years I was delusional about the contribution I was making to securing the protection of the natural environment and a fairer society while the natural environment went down the toilet and social inequality increased. After 2010 things got much, much worse socially and environmentally.
It was during this period that I won an award for being the least influential person on housing and planning in the whole of England. There are yet undiscovered bacteria locked into the ice caps of Mars who’ve had more influence over the direction of government policy.’
What pushed him over the edge was:
‘… a visit I paid to Watford to see the consequences of how deregulation of planning was leading to sub-standard homes. The picture doesn’t really do justice to just how shocking this was. There are plans for 15 flats in this conversion, half with no windows. No space for a child to play, no gardens. Life in a carpark.‘
Hugh’s reflections on his ‘journey to despair and back again’ are captured in his podcast ‘Two Teabags to Utopia’, which you can listen to here.
In an amusing, self-deprecating account of the train journey – which is a metaphor for his life’s journey – Hugh describes how he used this nadir in his life to contemplate that another journey is possible.
In a moment of insight, he suggests that we have been looking in the wrong place. If we open our eyes to what is happening in our communities, we can find pathways to hope because they are all around us. By focusing on Whitehall and Westminster, we are missing the everyday solutions that people are building for themselves. Ending on a positive note, Hugh sets out a preliminary agenda for action.
The podcast forms part of a collaboration between TCPA and Rethinking Poverty. We want to explore the approaches to the future of planning that Hugh sets out. In taking the journey forward, we would welcome it if you would like to travel with us.
At first this means walking – because that’s all we can do – both literally because of the lockdown and metaphorically because the maze we are in permits no fast journeys if we are to find our way through.
Click here to listen to Hugh’s podcast.
Want to keep up-to-date with more articles like this? Sign up to our newsletter.