1: Time, speed and slow planning?

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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.

Why planning and time?

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 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. Time has often been an obscure or uncritically accepted part of discourses shaping planning. As we argue here, time, in its deployment both rhetorically and practically, can have profound impacts on both planning processes and outcomes.

The starting point here is that time, as well as related words that are entangled with time, such as ‘speed’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘delay’, play a more significant role in economic and political discourse than may be recognised. Paradoxically, time is almost hidden from view by its ubiquity in everyday life, that is, our behaviours, relations and practices. If the arrangements and impacts of time hide in plain sight, this may be one reason why time has remained largely as a background feature or container in the planning literature and within considerations of wider professional practice. As Ewing (1972: 439) stated half a century ago: ‘The utterly essential dimension of planning is time ... Yet time is the one dimension of planning that never gets discussed. It is treated as if it were a constant that everyone understands.’ Only recently has more direct and critical engagement with the topic begun to emerge in planning studies.

To illustrate this point, if we take the perspective that time is merely an objective and natural part of the physical universe, then its relevance can seem very far detached from individual experience and how we encounter time. When we consider time from a social-science perspective, where time is typically viewed as socially constructed and embedded in power relations, then its role becomes much clearer in terms of how time is organised and performed through society and its institutions. In reality, time is experienced as a variety of temporalities that influence behaviour. In essence, there is not one time but multiple timings that dictate the rhythm and pace of life: economic time, political time, administrative time and so on (which are reflected in numerous instantiations: boom and bust, democratic election cycles, working hours, tax payment schedules, medical appointment slots, or the timing of a census). Therefore, treating time as singular and objective, as is often the case in popular discourse, robs understanding of its context-dependent, subjective and relational nature – and, more importantly, the power relationships involved in who decides the timings of politics, economics and society, as well as planning.

Throughout this book, we aim to demonstrate that time is not neutral or innocuous. Instead, temporal choreographies and the ‘timescape’ (Adam, 2004, 2008; Howlett and Goetz, 2014) play an important role in reifying and sustaining economic, political, bureaucratic and social practices. Such timing(s) can promote professional practice and public participation but, equally, can lead to exclusion from, or the subversion of, good planning. The purposes of exercising power and control, and the impact on others effected through time, are critical to this exploration.

Following Ewing (1972), the potential trap of falling into ‘self-evidential’ assumptions about time as a ‘background’ to practice may be one reason that other natural- and social-science disciplines have attended much more closely to the importance of time within their academic outputs than have planning scholars (Laurian and Inch, 2019; Hutter and Wiechmann, 2022). Raco et al (2018: 1190) have recognised the lack of research and engagement on the politicised nature of timescapes and temporalities in planning, noting that ‘when addressed [these] have been dominated by simple binaries between the speed of planning and decision-making processes and project outcomes’. They argue for more research on the politics and governance of the built environment, as well as engagement with the relationships between power, resources and time.

Furthermore, Matthews (2014: 41–2) highlights that ‘the varied temporalities – that is experiences of time – that come together in planning and development processes creat[e] conflict and the possibilities for consensus’, and while not taking these issues on directly, he makes the case that ‘debates around collaborative planning and community engagement in planning processes have not fully interrogated time in all its forms – historic time; imagined time; developers time; policy-makers time; community time’. We agree that too little attention has been paid to the multiple times shaping planning and seek to start this project in earnest.

Unpacking the myriad effects/affects of time in and for planning is a significant task (and one that cannot be achieved in a single book). The purpose of this volume is to provide a solid starting point that can act as a foundation and springboard for further research on planning and time. While we attempt to keep the relevance of planning in view throughout, this task requires taking an interdisciplinary view of time from social, economic, political and democratic theory. This necessitates opening up our reading to consider time from the broader social-sciences literature.

The main chapters in this book therefore seek to appraise wider social theorisations of time and deploy them to help consider how time has been used to shape planning. We apply such theorisation to planning to highlight the multiple temporalities at play, which form an important basis of the power relations that shape practice(s) between actors and interests in planning systems. Collectively, we see these forming what we term the ‘planning timescape’.

The implications of using time as a lens for planning research are potentially far-reaching. It is beyond the scope of this book to consider all the possible permutations and applications of this perspective. Instead, we seek to sketch out the terrain by providing an overview of time in planning, as well as offering our interpretation of the role and implications of time in terms of the English planning system and helping advocate a research agenda.

Times past?

While we argue that time has not been paid sufficient critical attention in the planning literature, intellectual attention to questions of time and speed have long been recognised. Weber, in his path-breaking The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, noted how ‘the extraordinary increase in speed by which public announcements, as well as political and economic facts are transmitted exerts a steady and sharp pressure in the direction of speeding-up the tempo of administrative reaction’ (Weber, 1904, quoted in Toffler, 1970: 143). Such reflections on the increasing pace of ‘modern’ life also underscore that ‘the more complex societies have become, the more “urgently” timing problems have been posed’ (Martineau, 2016: 32).

Taking a historical perspective can remind us how the modern age has required that time be mastered to organise industrial capitalist societies. It is notable that the great commentator on cities and architecture Lewis Mumford (1934), in his sweeping text Technics and Civilisation, considered the moral, economic and political choices that we make as a society, and recognised the temporal dimension. For Mumford, these choices have, over the past centuries, produced an industrialised machine-oriented capitalist economy. For him, time and its deployment meant that, even by the 1930s, ‘the measurement of time became the timing of everyday activities, the temporal control of work activity and the rationing of time’ (Mumford, 1934: 13) had become normalised. Mumford observed that ‘each culture believes that every other space and time is an approximation to or perversion of the real space and time in which it lives’ (Mumford, 1934: 13). In this latter point, he draws attention to alternatives and differences across cultures and groups. This highlights the way that time is aligned to particular goals and priorities, and in this way, he prefigures early work on social theories of (relational) time that we discuss in Chapter 2. Similarly, Luhmann’s work on trust and power also recognised the significance of time, and noting over four decades ago that ‘a theory of trust presupposes a theory of time’ (1979: 12).

Returning our overview to the present day, the context in which UK planning systems currently operate has been one shaped by over 40 years of neoliberal-informed policy approaches, as overseen by successive UK governments since the late 1970s. The effects of neoliberal thought and associated policy and practice have widely been recognised to include the deregulation of state planning, the removal of strategic planning, the marketisation and commercialisation of planning, and reliance on private sector inputs (Lord and Tewdwr-Jones, 2014). This has also been characterised as presenting an ‘open for business’ culture (Inch, 2018) by governments that increasingly prioritise growing the economy (that is, growth) as their main political and policy platform.

It is now commonplace in political and public debate that anything perceived as being a barrier to business or growth is unnecessarily ‘holding the country back’ from achieving its potential. The typical targets of such narratives are often ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘regulation’. These culprits are positioned as standing in the way of efficient and effective business. The underlying tone of appeals for deregulation and ‘cutting red tape’ are often tied to the need to ‘get things done’. This is where the governance of time begins to overtly shape policy. Moreover, as we delineate later on, this highlights what Lazar (2019) terms ‘temporal-rhetorical framings’ and reflects what Nowotny (1994) calls ‘chrono-technologies’, where time can be highly influential in shaping political and public discourse(s), which signal measures imposed to regulate practice (the import of such concepts is discussed further in Chapter 2).

As the title of this book suggests, one of the main issues with policy that attempts to speed up processes to meet a business objective, or otherwise impose temporal privileging, can be that the importance and quality of the activity in question can be undermined and subsumed to a broader economic growth agenda. This can include sacrificing other objectives, such as inclusion, deliberation and serving the public interest (discussed in more detail later). These have become trade-offs to prioritise ‘project speed’, whereby politicians and policy makers have serially attempted to placate business interests by presenting ‘on the hoof’ policy solutions to speed up or bypass bureaucratic and/or regulatory processes. Apparently, these solutions have been offered without careful thought about their full ramifications. We observe that there has been too little consideration of what is either lost or even gained, both now and in the future, by making changes to processes or rules using deadlines, time limits or other chrono-technologies that privilege ‘growth’ goals.

Starting with Madanipour’s (2017) distinction between three types of time that influence approaches to urbanism and that shape our cities – substantive time, relational time and intuitive time – this reading of planning and its social institutions comes closest to discussing a relational view of time:

The emphasis on events and their relationship offers the possibility of a transition from the mechanical to a social understanding of time. Time, like space, is a social phenomenon, subject to social processes that generate its concepts, regulates its application and consolidate its meanings. If time and space are envisaged as relationships, they become subject to the stabilizing effects of social institutions. Temporality is managed through the development of social institutions, the recurrent beliefs and modes of conduct that would generate continuity and predictability, helping to manage change and control events within a stable social framework. (Madanipour, 2017: 171)

The strength of this relational perspective of time is that it can inform a rebalancing that offers the possibility of a more inclusive relationship between the multiple stakeholders and diversity of interests involved in planning. Such reflections, which move away from objective portrayals of time, mean that ‘the future of the city may be opened to alternative imaginations ... While the relations may be subject to the strong and powerful forces that influence the course of events, a relational notion opens up the possibility of rethinking these arrangements’ (Madanipour, 2017: 171–2). On such a view, planning is seen as a participatory and democratic forum for considering the future.

This change of perspective is nothing less than a challenge to powers that seek to control time to pursue their own ends (for example, for speed and growth). This type of critical reflection on time and how it is embedded in (seemingly natural) social institutions and cultural norms forms part of the basis of our arguments. We think that this is especially relevant to the UK, which is subject to seemingly constant government and business claims for ‘reform’ to better suit the needs of development and economic growth. Such pressures will be familiar across planning systems internationally, where they have been subject to more or less neoliberalised reforms.

Given the implications of the foregoing discussion, we do not seek to argue that all bureaucracy is efficient or that some regulations and rules do not become outdated and need revision, but this is not what is driving project speed. It is quite a different matter to revisit laws and policies, and/or to impose time limits or sanctions, if this is a product of an appraisal of success against the original goals and wider challenges at hand. This would be considered good reflective practice in an educated, professionalised and democratic society. Current approaches appear far less about providing detailed evidence or appraisal of existing policies and practices. Instead, the influence of powerful interests is discernible as they press for advantage to make time work for their own ends. We argue that this is a poor foundation and basis for informed policy making and for well-planned (sustainable) outcomes based on democratic checks and balances.

This approach to public policy formulation and reform is not isolated to the planning system but rather reflects a wider shift in the governance of the public sector by successive UK governments that have typically sought to apply quick fixes to complex problems. Ian Dunt (2023: 26), in his exposé of Westminster, highlights that ‘[t]he British political system rewards short-term tactics over long-term strategy, irrationality over reason, amateurism over seriousness, generalism over specialism and gut instinct over evidence’. Grube also emphasises that in politics, ‘frenetic pace is often celebrated. It suggests enthusiasm, “grip”, and a determination not to be held back by the entrenched rules of the game … But people in a hurry break things’ (2022: vii–viii). We view the latest ‘project speed’ agenda targeting planning-system performance as just one manifestation of this broader deprofessionalisation and politicisation of governing the state’s social institutions. Furthermore, such approaches to governing can become more pronounced (and fervent) within neoliberalised and populist political environments. This leads to a suspicion that policy is being based largely on intuition, ambition and ideological preferences over evidence, consultation or considered strategy.

While beyond the explicit focus on time here, it is worth recognising that the wider context of government pressure to reform planning according to political goals, such as a neoliberalist agenda, is further complicated by the way that planning issues can be used as a battleground in the so-called ‘culture wars’ that accompany populist rhetoric (see Parker and Dobson, 2023). These are typically characterised as disagreements about cultural and social beliefs between groups, especially between people with more conservative attitudes and those holding more progressive opinions. Such rhetoric often seeks to politicise past, present and future ideals in their favour.

We can view instances of culture wars as struggles for dominance over the values, beliefs and practices that should be accepted within a civil society, that is, to shape societal morality, which have generated and indeed necessitated polarised views. In planning, this can be seen in examples that arbitrate where rights and the environment are at stake, and end up a victim of both sides (that is, for conservatives, overstepping on individual freedoms, and for progressives, planning policy not doing enough to move beyond the status quo). We can see such cultural conflict manifest in recent debates, for example, over the urgency to achieve climate action, such as net-zero carbon emissions targets, the introduction of 15-minute neighbourhoods and low traffic zones, as well as the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London.

Throughout this book, we have been mindful not to fall into the trap of criticising speed or growth in all cases; indeed, these can be laudable aims for improving a range of situations. Rather, what we seek to question here is the pursuit of speed or growth at all costs. It is not for us to say what objectives are good or bad but, rather, to assert that whatever approach is taken in deciding them, allowing time for the inclusion of stakeholders and deliberation on the range of impacts and issues involved seems wise. Without such an approach to planning, the substantive goals of public interest and sustainable development are curtailed. In short, time is needed to both reflect on existing approaches and objectives that shape the present and future, and, more critically, to consider how they compare to any alternatives.

This has led us to suggest that we need a more considered approach to questions of time in policy and practice. We use ‘slow planning’ as a title not to argue for a slow process but to acknowledge that planning should not be rushed or simplified. We should start from the point of ‘proper time’, with inclusivity, deliberation and public interest driving modalities of planning. With this in mind, we can start to think about temporality and temporalisation in relation to planning.

Planning fast and slow

In the influential book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011), the author discusses human decision making and how we respond, or should respond, both quickly and more slowly to different situations. In that text, it is stressed how ‘time does matter. ... The central fact of existence is that it is the ultimate finite resource’ (Kahneman, 2011: 409). Similarly, Rosling et al (2018) argue that pressure to realise ‘urgency’ may block analytical thinking. These authors draw attention to how one result can be making up our minds too fast and taking action that has not been well thought through. In reality, there is always likely to be some pressure or discounting involved in how we arrive at conclusions and weigh up the foreseeable costs and benefits of time taken (that is, bounded rationality), and this conditions how we prioritise tasks and time expenditure. This pragmatism also implies that we operate in a psychological state where the boundedness of our understanding of a task or situation shapes decisions and raises several questions, including: how do we know how much time to take over any given decision?

This brings into view, on an individualised basis at least, that many forces or pressures shape our approach to work and our behaviours. Such conditions lead us to make daily judgement calls about the most effective and beneficial effort and time to deploy. The time aspect of such conditions can be understood as a ‘temporally bounded’ rationality, which, for Felt (2016: 182), shapes the ‘temporal choreographies’ that influence responsibility, citizenship and democracy – what we will explore and refer to later as ‘time shaping practice’.

While human decision-making processes are complicated, the task of making judgements is often compounded within more complex disciplinary professions. This clearly applies to planning given the synoptic nature and breadth of considerations recognised as features of spatial planning (see Tewdwr-Jones, 2017). Planning itself involves many different roles and specialisms, and draws in multiple knowledge strands (see Parker and Street, 2021). As Donald Schon (1982: 353) identified 40 years ago: ‘planners function variously as designers, plan makers, critics, advocates of special interests, regulators, managers, evaluators, and intermediaries. In planning as in other professions, each role tends to be associated with characteristic values, strategies, techniques, and bodies of relevant information.’

Even before this, the multidimensional nature and multidisciplinary character of planning was recognised in the UK as far back as the 1950 Shuster Report (see Presthus, 1951), and this multi-actor environment implies that time, as well as knowledge, are critical ingredients for good planning. Yet, while planning has always been a multifaceted and technical discipline, we see a growing complexity of planning as a professional activity given the increasing range and scope of challenges that require solutions in the early 21st century. Conversely, this role has often been downplayed by some governments and interest groups, and planning has been afforded less time and resources to address them.

The question of time becomes most pertinent not only when pondering over particularly complex situations or where the problem under consideration is ‘wicked’, which is an acknowledged feature of many planning situations (see, for example, Hartmann, 2012; Rittel and Weber, 1973), but also where some may elect to simplify the nature of the issue, render it tame and then offer a solution that (only) then appears appropriate or legitimate (Head and Alford, 2015; Wright et al, 2019). It seems clear why Schon (1982, 1983) highlighted the key role of reflection and deliberation for professional practitioners when dealing with complex issues on a regular basis. The planning profession may also require a more active or critical reflection beyond ‘self-reflection’. What we mean is that self-reflection over issues and solutions almost certainly has to be accompanied by deliberation with others (indeed, we go further in arguing later that planning is by its nature participatory).

In the UK, however, planning ‘performance’ is measured by government primarily in terms of the speed of decision making. Thus, if time for reflection is taken as an important feature of professional practice, it is still moot whether and how planners can afford reflection in systems across practice environments that squeeze time. How one reflects and uses time for deliberation is just as important as any quantum of time, as is the question of who is involved and what knowledge is applied. These are several of the critical elements for contending with (a more inclusive and deliberative) practice, and this frames consideration of what participative dynamics are to be sustained in planning. Such issues all bear time implications, impact on different actors and affect planning and development outcomes – a situation we present later as representing the multiple temporalities of planning and that shape the planning timescape.

While the pursuit of growth through speed, efficiency and certainty has long been legitimised by UK governments and urged by powerful land and development interests, ‘project speed’ and its underpinning attacks on planning have become increasingly febrile (see Chapter 4). In this context, there is concern that such political rhetoric and associated timescaping will impair planning, erode public confidence, promote exclusionary practice and deliver unsustainable outcomes if these are viewed as acceptable ‘collateral damage’ in the drive for speed to service a growth agenda.

Placing these debates aside momentarily, suspicions about the quality of decisions, how (wicked) planning challenges are understood and how solutions are arrived at abound. Is there something that we should recognise and reflect on about the importance of time in making decisions in planning? Can time pressure sometimes be a positive force in ‘concentrating minds’? Some might say that overthinking undermines planning, as it should be a stage preceding delivery or action, as well as facilitate action rather than unreasonably delay it. If not appropriate to the task, though, what mistakes, oversights or exclusions may be compounded by time pressure? As Hartmann (2012) observes, accepting ‘just-viable’ options may ultimately be deemed acceptable on these grounds, leading to accepted normative states that have not been open to scrutiny or wider deliberation. In reality, we just do not know enough about how such a calculus is made. Conversely, if ‘fast’ planning is acceptable, then what credentials justify it or provide the criteria against which to judge it? What is the (presumed) relationship between speed and quality? That is to say, we need to critically reflect on the fast and slow of planning.

Time is also important for setting the parameters of debate and action in planning. Its use as a means of control and facilitation is more than simply a ‘container’ of events (Hutter and Wiechmann, 2022). Multiple temporalities can be viewed most clearly between key participants in the process (such as landowners, developers, politicians and councillors, local authority planners, and diverse community members), as well as in the different emphases placed on land-use mapping, participation and decision making across different international planning systems, and when considering possible end states or other normative goals.

This brings into view the dilemma of time taken in planning, where balancing speed/delay against time needed to prepare and think is likely to be difficult. While recognising the complexities of planning, it is true that careful thought does not guarantee optimal outcome(s). Rather, adept judgement and the smart use of system design and resources is also needed. Recognition that when decisions are made, they are imperfect is a reality. And when they are found to be so, can we at least say that ‘best efforts’ were made? We might ask that they pass tests other than simply a speed test, perhaps deliberation over the decision and possible alternatives has been undertaken, such that those affected can understand the (value) judgements at hand, and so transparency becomes a servant to this goal. Moreover, a clearer and more systematic approach to different planning tasks, projects or issues needs to be kept in view.

Closer consideration of the range of elements and issues incorporated by modern planners and planning systems reveals the possibility that different issues, policies or decisions need more or less time, more or less resource, and, it follows, more or less input. The deployment of resources influences the assessment of ‘time’ needed. As such, some tasks may be expedited by putting more people onto the job or spending money on outsourcing tasks, or indeed by extending the bounds of co-production to ensure knowledge and understanding are brokered effectively. In this sense, a lack of time to complete a particular task can, in some circumstances, be counteracted by an increased deployment of other resources. This highlights some of the time asymmetries found in planning given the uneven distribution of time, money and knowledge resources across interested parties. Time is not the only factor to be reckoned with, but the criticality of timeliness, or, as we go on to discuss, ‘proper time’, can play an important part in relation to a specific task or issue.

Questions of what is at stake and how time-critical a decision or a policy is provoke reflection on any blanket presumption, or uniform prescription, about the time needed in planning. The specific element of planning (that is, the issue or stage), the knowledge required, the skills held and the need to involve others are other factors. How time is apportioned and ‘needed’ in planning has had too little attention, particularly in relation to system design and to sustaining the operating principles that underpin a given system. This leads to our consideration of the role of time in planning and for planning.

As we go on to discuss across the following chapters, the way that planning is organised and shaped by time can be viewed as producing a timescape that has been socially and politically constructed and contested. Abram and Weszkalnys (2011: 3) emphasise the multiple ‘possibilities that time offers space’. If time is disciplined to the extent that studies of neoliberal planning lead us to believe, then what implications are there for practice and, indeed, for how planning is actually done? What relations of production are maintained, and, for instance, what are the actual costs involved in the ‘black box’ of local plan production? This follows calls that planners, in both research and practice, ‘need to explicitly explore what it means to collectively and inclusively muddle through the various temporalities involved in plan making and urban change’ (Laurian and Inch, 2019: 278).

We cannot take on all that this implies here, but such concerns have been manifest across many aspects of life and activity. Movements relating to slow food, slow tourism and slow living (see Honoré, 2005; Slow Movement, 2017) have been joined by wider attempts to urge ‘slow cities’, ‘where decision-making times allow time for proper democratic and judicial-technical oversight of development processes’ (Raco et al, 2018: 1180). These separate but related movements reflect a groundswell against ‘fast’ practice, particularly in response to concerns over the impacts of social acceleration and living in a ‘high-speed society’ (Rosa, 2010, 2013). We see this in so-called ‘24/7 capitalism’, rolling news cycles and constantly updating social media feeds. This context is also likely to impact on the level of (cognitive) attention or focus that is paid to any particular activity or event, given the potential for ‘information overload’ and ‘burnout’ within increasingly complex and fast-paced societies, as well as the clock time expended on them.

Decisions over the timings of society are also deeply political, for example, how long children must stay in school education for, how long the working week is and when people get to retire, to name a few. We can see political moves to realign time and its availability, for instance, in efforts to ‘extend’ working lives by removing the need to retire from work or raising the pensionable age, in effect, boosting time into the economy. These have all changed as societies and social institutions have developed (that is, they are socially constructed under prevailing cultures).

Cautionary voices and deliberately oppositional movements have highlighted the use of time as a strategic resource and help indicate the importance of time in planning and for planning better. As we discuss in Chapter 2, the control of time shapes the future and critically makes practice. For example, different speeds of process and decision making can act to create new opportunities for investors and developers who operate with shorter- or longer-term outlooks and business models, as well as to perform or enable other social groups. As it stands, commercial and financial discourses can crowd out and even completely corrode other substantive aims of planning. In this context, participation or apparently deliberative activity can too easily become manipulative or superficial, resulting in even further public distrust in planning actors and institutions. Laurian and Inch (2019: 278) suggest that when powerful interests attempt control through time, this can also be challenged by using time:

Extending the call for ‘slow cities’ and ‘slow building’, ‘slow planning’ can be a selective tactic for accommodating multiple temporalities and concerns, tempering the negative impacts of urban development processes dominated by financial rates of returns or the preferred pacing of dominant actors. ... Selective deceleration tactics could aim to set aside time to stimulate thinking about the now and the future by making time slow down or stand still.

Similarly, Weber (2015) argues for a ‘slow urbanism’, which allows time for proper democratic and technical oversight of development, as well as the introduction of new forms of regulation that underpin this mode. In parallel with such calls, the focus here hinges on a question about what time and space there is for deliberation in planning, both for professional planners and for other actors with a stake in planning outcomes. To unpack this, we have chosen to focus largely on the procedural elements of the English planning system timescape (as set out in Chapter 3).

Our contention is that good planning takes time, but that is not necessarily the same thing as abandoning clock time or condoning ‘delay’. What is needed is more open discussion about the ‘right timing’ or, as we highlight throughout the book, ‘proper time’ in planning. This is where the resources and values of those involved are aligned with the time needed to plan well. At its best, we argue that a ‘slower’ planning – a play on the truer meaning of ‘deliberative’ – can provide a public interest planning where the calibration between key interests is both fairer and likely to produce better outcomes. This does not mean necessarily slower in terms of simple linear or clock time but, rather, that the sensibility and modalities of planning need to keep the impacts of time choreographies and temporal governance in sight and, as a consequence, use time better.

Our advocacy for ‘slow planning’ therefore pivots on arguing for quality processes and outcomes of planning within any given time period. On this reading, it is the deployment and utilisation of time that is key rather than the duration of activities or ‘events’ (see Adkins, 2009; see also Chapter 2). This is a critical difference that can highlight various attempts to manage and control time, and helps reveal how the exercise of power features in the use of time in planning and by and across different interests in planning. In this respect, we anticipate the criticism that simply ‘allowing more time’ for the planning process will solve all planning problems as crude and unrealistic. Time is one resource constraint or risk among many that create practical challenges, along with funding, staffing, knowledge and skills, and political cycles, to name but a few. Yet, appeals to speed can be crude and unrealistic where they misunderstand or ignore the realities of, or proper times for, planning issues.

As such, the premise of the discussion is to assert that ‘planning’ (that is, the planning field) needs to understand and communicate its own ‘proper time(s)’. This should be recognised in the plural because different actors, tasks, projects or processes may need more or less time and resources. Simplistic attempts to ‘speed up’ planning run the risk of impairing the quality of the activity, curtailing deliberation and impacting on the ability to discharge a professional role. It is also likely to diminish the ability of the less powerful, informed or resourced to engage effectively in the system. Therefore, one of the main arguments put forward here is that a clear ‘principle-based’ and appropriately deliberative planning system is necessary in a democratic system and pluralist society. This is where considerations of speed and the ‘control of time’ (Adam, 2004) cannot be allowed to overwhelm or discipline actors’ behaviours through the use of discourses of efficiency, certainty, delivery and growth. It is lamentable that these have become the dominant logics under a neoliberalised (and increasingly commercialised) planning system.

As we will discuss throughout the book, planning systems and practices have increasingly come under pressure to be faster, be more efficient and avoid delay under neoliberal policy environments. In the UK, the latest iteration of this discourse is ‘project speed’, forming a central part of the agenda to reform planning to better serve these goals (as covered in Chapter 4). While timely planning plays its part in facilitating these objectives, planning and its performance should not be measured by speed alone. Instead, decoupling from the speed imperative can enable a better planning that also keeps in view public accountability, inclusivity, deliberation, synoptic thinking and consideration of strategic (spatial) planning aims.

Structure of the book

In order to take some of the issues and concerns expressed as part of this introduction to planning and time further, the book is organised around a series of key themes and ideas relating both to theorisations of time and to key aims and objectives associated with (spatial) planning. We deploy ideas of timescapes/timescaping and proper time to frame the exploration of the (multiple) temporalities of planning and the political endeavour that we label ‘project speed’. Across this theorisation, we keep in view a set of normative ideals around which planning may be reasonably coalesced; not least, these are inclusivity, public interest and sustainable development.

To do this, we use the English planning system as a case in point to highlight the effects/affects of attempts to chrono-synchronise, or ‘timescape’, planning tools, processes and participants in service of a dominant economic growth agenda. Many of the issues and approaches raised around plan making, decision making and public participation will have a wider resonance with, and relevance for, planning systems and practices internationally.

This first chapter has provided an initial grounding for the rationale, aims and scope of the book. It has also indicated why this topic area should be embraced and absorbed, and how this is useful for providing a deeper understanding of time in practice and the impact of time on practice.

The deeper exposition of time and practice as conceptualised in the wider social sciences is set out in Chapter 2, where a theoretical understanding of time as both a social construct and a technology of power is highlighted. The chapter develops a lens through which to examine time in planning and draws on a range 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).

Taking the rich set of ideas covered in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 discusses examples taken from across the English planning system where time has been used to orchestrate planning practice in various ways, what we characterise as a ‘timescaping’ and ‘chrono-synchronisation’ project. This serves to indicate the (intended and unintended) inclusionary and exclusionary work of political time in relation to the key stakeholders and tools used in planning practice. As a response, we develop the argument that planning as an activity is inherently participatory and that, as a consequence, participation cannot be separated from professional planning practice.

While leading up to and linking the planning timescape to politics and political time, Chapter 4 features a discussion of planning and the role of time in a neoliberalised policy environment. This outlines the idea of ‘project speed’, used to focus attention on the political project of reforming planning in the English case. The past decade or so has seen concerted efforts to orient the planning timescape such that it is not necessarily in service of good planning, nor supporting democratic accountability, but is aligned 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 on the terms most agreeable to a narrow constituency. This provides the groundwork for considering more normative goals of planning.

Chapter 5 then considers the role of time, public interest and deliberative democracy in relation to how planning inputs are managed. Particularly, we indicate the implications and linkages across time as a resource, the aims of planning, and the processes and tools available to foster proper time for planning. Care to sustain appropriate deliberative practices are, we argue, linked to the act of planning itself (as a participatory undertaking) rather than isolated as an adjunct to public engagement. In essence, we make a case that enabling deliberation is an important component of good planning, and this is particularly pertinent as attempts to come closer to legitimising planning in the public interest are still an actively debated question.

Chapter 6 summarises the main arguments of the book and argues for a more reflective planning and practice that takes time more seriously. We contend that to effect this 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 will be one where the central tenets of inclusion, deliberation and public interest feature as firm design principles for planning systems, processes and practices. We also rehearse a research agenda towards the end of the chapter in which understanding time in and for planning can be further developed.

Chapter 2 begins by setting out a review of how time has been treated in social theory. It outlines how time and temporalisation shape practice, particularly how time orients practice in the service of political goals, and where theories of time span the disciplines of economics, politics and sociology, holding far-reaching implications as a consequence.

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