Reading a lecture script on planning theories and governance structures is not easy. But the hard work can be worth it, as it is for Patsy Healey's recent RTPI Nathanial Lichfield Annual Lecture (full script available here). Healey is Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University and through her work on strategic spatial planning has received the RTPI Gold Medal and become a fellow of the British Academy. I have always found her work engaging with its ability to mix both abstract planning and public policy theories with the everyday reality of city life and the role of the planning profession.
Her RTPI Lecture captures the current enthusiasm for localism but instead of critiquing the Conservative Government's Localim Bill she digs deeper to deconstruct what form local political action should take. This is wise because the fundamental issues of governance and civic capacity must be understood before exploring the types of planning controls needed. Healey's main concern is the way in which debates over governance often break down into shouting matches between polarised sides calling for either less or more Government. She categorizes these sides as either market idealists or idealised communitarianism. Instead, Healey proposes a form of 'network governance' that blurs the boundaries of state, economy and cicil society. This allows for a more flexible state of governance that retains some Government safeguards but permits experimentation and capacity building at the local level. It is only within this networked governance does Healey believe true local planning can emerge.
Though I understand the opportunities within this 'networked governance' model, I struggle to see how it can be expected to be applied in the UK. England is very centrist, something I have understood even more since leaving the country. The national Government still retains a high degree of power over the allocation of resources at the local level through budget setting, tax collecting and central policy statements. Therefore if more efficient local governance models are to develop, as argued by Healey, greater resources must be allocated to the local level for both local governments and community groups to make use of.
On an aside, Healey mentions the case of Vancouver as an example where neighbourhood groups have been highly influential in establishing design guidelines. She paints this as a success but fails to mention the significant issue of affordability and how some neighbourhoods have closed themselves off from accepting new development. This tension will soon be amplified as the City of Vancouver embarks on its first ever City-wide Plan. With Vancouver needing to build more housing the City planners are clear that identified areas (e.g. the Cambie corridor) will have to accept higher densities. This has the potential to create problems with communities who see the Government as imposing development into 'their' area. It will be interesting to see whether Vancouver's specific form of networked governance stands up these growth demands.