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Modernising Planning: Public Participation in the UK Planning System


  • Alan Townsend


  • Janet Tully



In the UK the formal land-use planning system is once more at a crossroads with the unprecedented levels of public comment on the recent Governmental Green Paper on Planning. A recent international report on the planning process in Westernised countries highlighted a dearth of public participation in the UK planning system this is despite an obvious undercurrent of concern on environmental issues and the like. The paper sets out to gauge the extent of public interest in the Planning system, in the light of current proposals to revise it. The paper concentrates on the nature of public participation in Planning and to consider whether the public are more satisfied with process, seeing it as fair and robust, if they are more actively involved in the process of consultation. Other aspects to consider are the need to seek consultation from the wider public, not just individuals and special interest groups. There are several forgotten frontiers of the past effort to promote public participation. Theory dating from the 1970s exposed differences between sociological approaches in Planning and solutions tended to be lost in complexity of Local Development Plans. Subsequent theory (Healey 1997) has argued for the need to reconcile plural interests across localities. What is neglected in the research is the fuller appreciation of the actual public interest by those in the Planning system. A recent international report by Heriott-Watt University, Edinburgh and DePaul University, Chicago called for the notion of ‘public participation’ to be turned on its head and instead encourage the practice of ‘participatory planning’- the use of third parties to pre-mediate conflicts between stakeholders before and during the process of an open consultation as opposed to seeking public opinions after the plans have been drawn. This paper aims to review the modernising agenda and set out the case for shifting public participation to participatory planning within the context of the UK. Particularly pertinent due to recent recommendations to increase sustainability communities. It uses several qualitative case studies drawn from urban planning authorities and rural districts from the UK, which reveal Local Planning Authorities may be as yet unprepared to fully grasp the concepts underpinning the notion of participatory planning.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Townsend & Janet Tully, 2004. "Modernising Planning: Public Participation in the UK Planning System," ERSA conference papers ersa04p51, European Regional Science Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwrsa:ersa04p51

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