Planning lessons from the Commonwealth, by Cliff Hague

Some excellent, imaginative planning is being done in several Commonwealth countries.

However, no UK planning authority submitted an entry for this year’s Commonwealth Association of Planners Awards for Outstanding Planning Achievement in the Commonwealth. Is no planning authority here seriously addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

This is the second year that I have been a member of the judging panel for the CAP Awards. It takes time, and you don’t get paid (it’s like writing this column!), but reading through the entries provides rich rewards in terms of inspiration. You get insights into how planners elsewhere are tackling pressing 21st century issues, such as the risks and consequences of climate-driven disasters or the need to respect and include people who historically have been exploited and marginalised.

Last year’s winner was from New Zealand, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the team of consultants who had worked with them on their Regional Policy Statement (RPS). It is an example of how to do resource management planning. Planners in an elected regional council (remember them?) led a range of other experts in putting risk management at the heart of a statutory regional strategy. The RPS covered land, air, fresh and coastal water, infrastructure and biodiversity, but also the relationship of humans to the land and to the past, and all of this in an integrated way, rather than as discrete concerns. In a region facing not just climate-related risks but a range of natural hazards, the RPS addresses matters from urban design to evacuation routes, and growth area management to water catchment.

As with other entries from New Zealand, involvement of, and respect for, the Maori peoples, and their culture and traditions in relation to their ancestral lands, water, and sites is deeply embedded in the planning process. This reflects national leadership, and similar approaches are demonstrated in entries from Canada. Land in the UK was snatched by a guilt-free elite so long ago that the consequent inequalities are not seen as problematic, let alone as a material consideration in the planning system. However, tensions between attachment of local residents to their place in the face of imperatives from outside investors have become common ground for planners to negotiate - think fracking, Airbnb, listed building consent, loss of public open space etc.

The 2019 winners will be announced on 9 November in Accra at the 50th Anniversary conference of the Ghana Institute of Planners. The shortlist is diverse, and features practice from several different parts of the Commonwealth. There is an innovative exercise in maritime spatial planning in sub-Antarctic New Zealand islands, but also a project in the rural north of Ghana driven by one female planner who was able to challenge sexist practices and improve livelihoods. There are a couple dealing with planning for rapid growth, in very different situations in Queensland and in Sierra Leone, and others dealing with climate change resilience in small Caribbean islands and in New Zealand. Just a shame about the UK.

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