Shock and crisis recovery in spatial planning, by David Marlow

At very short notice I have been asked to assist the British Overseas Territories (OTs) of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands (BVI), and Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) with recovery planning post-Hurricane Irma.

In preparation for the field work, I have been considering how spatial planning can contribute to post-crisis turnaround and reconstruction.

Whilst the dreadful events in the Caribbean are an extreme case of physical destruction, it is likely that planning officers and councillors will increasingly be faced with crises over the coming years.

Indeed, over recent months we have had terrorism in Manchester and London, Grenfell Tower, along with a number of flooding and other catastrophic weather events.

A 'good practice' example that is often referenced in post-disaster recovery is how Manchester used the response to the 1996 IRA bombing as a platform for the renewal and reinvention of the city.

The key ingredients of strategic success included using major reconstruction as a catalyst for addressing the planning weaknesses of the past.

It is too easy in the immediate aftermath of disaster to assume recovery means returning to the pre-disaster position - warts and all. Both government and insurance industries may tend to drive local leaders in that direction.

Rather, one needs to think about what type of place we want to be in the future. This is not necessarily about the lengthy statutory process of a new local plan - but a series of physical representations of economic and social visions and scenarios that can influence and shape redevelopment in the medium term.

Second, one needs to get support and buy-in to the approach - from government, business and other institutional users/operators in the place, and from the investment sector. Manchester famously used master planning and design competitions to capture the imagination of those who would resource reconstruction.

Part of this support, though, also requires credible institutional capability to design, approve, and actually implement development. The case for a specialist reconstruction agency (perhaps with planning powers) is an important consideration at this stage.

Third, strategic thinking, leadership and development planning needs to take place alongside immediate relief and repair, and probably extensive rebuild and temporary accommodation arrangements. These dual approaches require completely different mindsets and processes from each other, and from business-as-usual operations of local policy and development management teams.

Finally, both strategic planning and temporary arrangements are being undertaken in a context where planners are personally involved or impacted by the disaster that has struck their communities. Managing these stressors and pressures is a task in its own right.

The ability to bring in some external resource - both for additional capacity, and to look at proposals with a fresh independent perspective - may be particularly helpful in the process. This is part of the rationale behind my impending visit to the British OTs.

If there is some interest in the exercise, I am happy to write a further column on the experience and potential lessons learned on return.

David Marlow is chief executive of consultancy Third Life Economics 

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