Study calls on policymakers to learn planning lessons from European cities

European cities which have charged planning with engaging the market and providing responses to market failures have seen 'startling' results in terms of development quality, according to a report published this week.

Lille: planning has been empowered (picture by Craig Morey, Flickr)
Lille: planning has been empowered (picture by Craig Morey, Flickr)

The study, published by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), has identified key planning lessons leading to faster and better development, including housing, the UK could take from Western Europe.

The study, Planning as ‘market maker’: How planning is used to stimulate development in Germany, France and The Netherlands, argues that the three countries have successfully tackled housing and regeneration by using planning skills and tools to stimulate rather than just regulate development.

It explores what planning in the UK can learn from overseas experience "where the activity is often constructed as an important market participant that animates land and property markets by providing the certainty and preconditions for investment that markets crave".

The report points to three European case studies - Nijmegen, Hamburg and Lille - where it says that planning has been empowered and provided with legislative and financial support.

It says that this has led to "startling results in terms of development quality, laying the foundations for sustainable, positive economic outcomes".

The research says that upfront infrastructure investment can be used to shape future development and builds support for urban extensions, and tackling ‘NIMBYism’. 

Land assembly and readjustment whereby an overarching body actively seeks out and temporarily pools together private development rights strong planning institutions to coordinate this development also helps create "faster and better development," the report says.

The report says that "only strong planning institutions, where planning professionals are well resourced, empowered, and both culturally and societally supported can routinely deliver" the best outcomes for places".

"By contrast in the UK planning is routinely held accountable for our poor or limited development outcomes," the report said.

Michael Harris, head of research at the RTPI, said that the UK is not making enough use of these tactics, which "are essential to building the kind of places with access to jobs, good infrastructure and green spaces, at the kind of scale and density required to tackle the UK’s pressing housing crisis."

He added that "planning is so much more than just about regulating the use of land, but somehow this has become the dominant thinking here and has led to the perception that planning is anti-growth, cumbersome and bureaucratic".

Planning as ‘market maker’: How planning is used to stimulate development in Germany, France and The Netherlands is available here.

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