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Timescapes, Power and Democracy
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A deep exploration on how questions of time and its organisation affect planning practice, this book is aimed at public and private planning practitioners, national and local politicians and policymakers involved in planning, academics and students studying planning and related disciplines.

It presents time as a pervasive form of power that is used to shape democratic practices, and questions ‘project speed’: where time to think, deliberate and plan has been squeezed. The authors demonstrate the many benefits of slow planning for the key participants, multiple interests and planning system overall.

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The chapter considers the role of time, public interest and deliberative democracy in relation to how planning inputs are organised and managed. In doing so, it considers the wider ‘public interest’ justification for planning to meet a range of present and future needs, and the role of democratic processes and deliberation as a means to enable ‘good’ planning. These are discussed in view of the implications of, and linkages with, time as a resource and the aims of planning, with consideration of the processes and tools available to foster proper time for planning. Care to sustain appropriate deliberative practices is linked to the act of planning itself as a participatory undertaking rather than an adjunct to public engagement, which is often offered under narrow terms and reflects attempts to orchestrate inputs. The challenges to enabling more deliberative approaches are considered in relation to critiques of (post-)democratic citizenship, competing values within increasingly pluralist societies and the unequal operation of power relations. Despite these issues, the case is made that enabling deliberation is an important component of good planning and should form a key part of the normative principles underpinning planning systems.

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The chapter highlights that neoliberal discourses have a particular prominence and influence on political and economic thought and policy in the UK. The thinking behind neoliberal policy places time firmly in view as something to be ‘managed’ in order for ‘efficiency’ to be assured and ‘delay’ minimised. This view stresses that business and service imperatives are promoted in governmental policy generally and through planning policy more specifically. The chapter presents a discussion of planning and the role of time in a neoliberalised policy environment, and outlines the idea of ‘project speed’, cited to focus attention on the political project of reforming planning in the English case. It shows that there have been concerted efforts to orient planning timescapes not necessarily in service of good planning or of supporting democratic accountability but instead to primarily achieve growth. We view the reforms promoted by waves of neoliberalisation and ‘project speed’ over a longer period as attempts to control the present and future. Both the use of political time to service these agendas and the wider temporal politics of growth are questioned as effective long-term strategies in aiding good processes and/or outcomes.

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This chapter provides a deep exposition of time and practice as conceptualised in the wider social sciences. It presents a review of how time has been theorised in social theory, drawing on key thinkers who emphasise the role of time in shaping social and institutional practices across capitalist economic systems, interpersonal power relations and political strategies. In considering this range, the chapter draws on a number of theorists’ work, notably, Pierre Bourdieu, Barbara Adam, Helga Nowotny and Nomi Lazar, whose ideas are presented as key in highlighting the operation of power, political strategy and the relationship of time to practice (and vice versa). This sets out a framework for analysis and provides both an insight and a guide to understanding the multiple temporalities of planning and how timescapes structure practice. By considering the use and organisation of time in organising how planning is practised and who is involved, the recognition that planning itself produces particular futures is brought into view. Key theoretical ideas are used specifically to examine, in later chapters, the way time is organised and deployed as a tool to exert control in the planning system in England.

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This final chapter summarises the main arguments of the book and argues for a more reflective planning and practice that takes time and its implications more seriously. It reflects on planning timescapes as oriented towards neoliberal speed-growth agendas, such as project speed, in order to assist in problematising existing approach(es) to planning. In doings so, the case is made that there is much more at stake than simply whether planning is ‘fast’ or ‘slow’; instead, far greater emphasis is required about what we are planning for and why. A reset of planning systems away from short-term political and business agendas and towards considering longer-term challenges requires a rethinking of normative principles and overall goals, as well as, it follows, a reshaping of the timescape(s) of planning in order to fashion proper time(s). This assemblage should feature the central tenets of inclusion, deliberation and public interest as design principles for planning systems, processes and practices. How time is conceptualised, challenged, managed and practised by different actors with a stake in planning and its outcomes appears critical to just, sustainable futures. It concludes by outlining a research agenda in which understandings of time in and for planning can be further developed to advance practice.

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This introductory chapter provides an initial grounding for the rationale, aims and scope of the book. It also indicates why this topic area should be embraced and absorbed in planning, and how this is useful for providing a deeper understanding of time in practice and the impact of time on practice. The consideration of time in relation to planning is an obvious one: planning is critically concerned with time as an activity in creating plans and policies for the present and future. Yet, beyond such seemingly self-evident claims and understandings of the importance of time, we need to consider the concept much more deeply to appreciate the profound role that time and ‘timescaping’ plays in structuring society, economies and politics, as well as for understanding how temporalisation shapes planning, which in turn shapes the experience of planning. In this respect, time has often been an obscure or uncritically accepted part of discourses shaping planning. This lays the foundations for exploring the contention that time, in its deployment both rhetorically and practically, can have profound impacts on both planning processes and outcomes.

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This chapter spotlights the cyclical interest, at a governmental level in England, in design governance, characterised by discrete periods of strong public oversight and relative market freedom. The chapter analyses the failure to deliver a consistent approach to place and housing quality over the last decade – a period in which the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment’s role in design scrutiny was ended while greater ‘market freedoms’ arrived in the form of an extension of permitted development rights. It notes that while permitted development rights are producing the ‘slums of the future’, a conservative ‘beauty’ ethic that will affect future planned development has been re-rooted in the Office for Place, marking the standard cyclical return to design oversight, though one that leans heavily on traditional urbanism. The chapter argues that the return of oversight, albeit in a very different form, might be cautiously welcomed if it can be evolved to correct at least some of the failings of design governance that have become apparent in the last decade.

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The conclusion reviews the findings of the other chapters and returns to a question set up in the introduction, asking whether the issues in planning in England reflect: failings of the planning system, profession and ‘discipline’; failings of the state within which planning has to operate (which then uses planning as a scapegoat for its own failure to deliver); or a combination of both state and planning failure. The conclusion then identifies four cross-cutting themes that recur in the preceding chapters, those of rhetoric, rapidity (of reform), resourcing (or the lack of) and regressive outcomes. Across these four themes, the conclusion summarises how UK government (in)action has caused or exacerbated problems with the operation of the English planning system, and represents an unprecedented failure of that government to design and implement a functioning planning system.

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It is widely reported that since the latter decades of the 20th century, there has been an annual shortfall in the number of new homes constructed relative to housing demand. The planning system has often been accused of being the primary cause of this shortage by governments of different political complexions. It is blamed for restricting housing supply and increasing house prices, and for acting as a drag on the free market delivering housing. Yet, it is not clear that planning is the root cause of these problems, and planning is rarely celebrated for its achievements in enabling the nation’s housing. We frame changes in planning policy that have occurred since 2010 in light of longer-term housing trends in England to ask whether state planning for housing has failed.

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This chapter introduces the book by first reviewing how a narrative of planning ‘failing to deliver’ has been constructed over recent decades on the island of Britain particularly in England. It reviews the manner in which planning has been critiqued and scapegoated since the 1970s by rightist and liberal critics, the ideas that ostensibly underpin their positions, and the resultant episodes of attempted deregulation of planning. The recrudescence of such critiques over the ‘long 2010s’, including surrounding the ‘radical’ reforms of planning proposed in 2020, is also explored. The discussion then moves to consider the book’s central question of whether many of the issues that the planning system and profession have had to contend with in fact reflect central state ‘failings’, such as endless and accelerating cycles of reform, policy churn, and tinkering by governments, which have rarely allowed one set of planning reforms to bed down before new policy reforms and initiatives have been launched. Finally, the contents and structure of the rest of the book are outlined.

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